Downtown Partnership lists progress

But annual report notes many problems remain

January 15, 2002|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore has made progress on some of the worst problems facing companies in the central financial district, according to an annual assessment by a local business group, the Downtown Partnership.

The local business group's annual report doesn't dwell on the loss of jobs and revenue due to the economic slump.

But, officials acknowledge, the core business district still faces parking shortages, a lack of retail stores, unused and unfit buildings, uncollected trash and a perception of high crime.

"We are saying, `Yeah, the economy has taken a hit, but not as hard as it could have,' " said Downtown Partnership President Michele L. Whelley, of the report that was released yesterday to members.

"We do have stalled projects, but someone is bullish on downtown Baltimore. We haven't seen this many cranes downtown for years."

The report cites construction of office buildings and parking garages as well as expansions at Mercy Medical Center, the University of Maryland and CitiFinancial Corp.

Unlike previous years, the latest report has no galvanizing central issue with which to call the downtown business community to action. The last two years focused on parking and office space shortages and the dire consequences of a city losing jobs.

Last year, construction began on two of four major office buildings: general contractor Willard Hackerman's building above an electric substation on Pratt Street and the Cordish Co.'s building on Pier 4. Both have signed anchor tenants.

Office towers also are planned by Lockwood Associates on Pratt Street and by H&S Properties Development Corp. in Inner Harbor East, although neither has signed anchors.

The report says the value of projects completed or under construction was $1.26 billion in 2001 (including $120 million for office buildings) compared with $861 million in 2000.

On the parking front, the partnership reports that a new garage was completed at Pratt and President streets and three new ones and an expansion are planned to begin this year, adding about 3,000 spaces.

James L. Shea, chairman of the Downtown Partnership, said the report does not mean to imply there is no sense of urgency to the work that is left.

"The report does reflect that after the call to arms last year there's been progress," he said.

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