City's development agency seeks new board chairman

Lipitz resigned post in Oct. after helping turn around BDC

November 14, 2001|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

The search is under way for a new chairman of the board that oversees the Baltimore Development Corp., a city agency that business leaders once criticized for being unresponsive but now praise as an effective economic engine.

Roger C. Lipitz, chairman of the independent board for the last six years, submitted his letter of resignation to Mayor Martin O'Malley Sept. 25 and left the position at the end of October. In the letter, he said he was spending too much time out of the state to carry out his responsibilities.

In an interview yesterday from his winter home in Florida, the retired Lipitz said he felt that his goals for the quasi-governmental agency were largely met and that the board could benefit from new blood.

Lipitz also said he had faith in the other board members and the BDC staff.

"I've got an enormous amount of satisfaction from what I've accomplished since then-Mayor [Kurt] Schmoke asked me to reorganize the Baltimore Development Corp.," Lipitz, 59, said. "[Mayor O'Malley] can rest assured they are in good hands."

"When he [Lipitz] came in, the city was losing jobs," O'Malley said last night. "He resigns now after two solid years of positive job creation for the city, and I think we're very lucky that he put his time and energy into improving our economic development activities."

O'Malley said that the administration has been looking for a successor, and that he hopes to appoint a new chairman by the end of the year.

Lipitz said he did not recommend a successor. But some business leaders speculated that the new chairman, a volunteer position, should come from the ranks of the current 15-member board.

Among the board members mentioned as candidates to fill the position were: James S. Riepe, vice chairman of T. Rowe Price Inc., and Richard J. Himelfarb, senior executive vice president of Legg Mason Inc. Neither was available for comment.

The board's membership includes city and business officials. Deputy Mayor Laurie B. Schwartz, another board member, has temporarily taken over as chairwoman.

Business leaders had been critical of the BDC before Lipitz's arrival and the appointment of M.J. "Jay" Brodie as president of the agency.The board recommended Brodie for the job, a salaried, full-time position. Lipitz said he shared many of the new president's beliefs.

Brodie promised to be more responsive to the agency's customers - local businesses. And business people said the BDC has delivered for the most part, and they credit Brodie and Lipitz for a more business-like organization.

With limited resources to use to lure new business to the city, aid those considering a move to the cheaper suburbs and bolster development projects, each decision is critical, business people said.

"Roger and the rest of the board members are used to looking at the bottom line to make their decisions, rather than making a political or ephemeral decisions," said Alfred W. Berry III, principal at AB Associates, a land planning and consulting firm. "They're relying more on cost-benefit analysis. The BDC officials can defend their decisions."

Edwin F. Hale Sr., chairman of First Mariner Bancorp, said Lipitz "was able to use the skills he learned over his career to benefit the city. We need someone else like that."

Lipitz founded Meridian Healthcare, which was sold to Genesis Eldercare in 1993. He's the past president of the American Health Care Association, former chairman of the board of the University of Maryland Medical System and still serves on the board of Carefirst Inc. He plans to maintain his home in Baltimore County.

In his resignation letter, Lipitz made a plea for money to assess the feasibility of the city financing a convention center hotel. Lipitz said he believes Baltimore needs to have another hotel near the convention center to boost tourism.

Lipitz also said he'd like to see the BDC establish priorities for projects. Already the agency looks at whether a development, such as an office building or hotel, can be built without public subsidies and whether the city could earn a return on its investment.

Sun staff writer Gady Epstein contributed to this article.

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