D.C., here we come

April 29, 2002

AFTER DECADES of drooling over Washington's go-go residential housing market, Baltimore is finally trying to get a piece of the action. Newspaper ads and placards at 11 District of Columbia Metro stations are touting Baltimore's price advantage; there will even be a Live Baltimore Happy Hour at a Union Station grill May 7.

"For us, this was really a no-brainer," says Tim Armbruster, president of Baltimore's Goldseker Foundation, which is bankrolling the $80,000 marketing push. "This town needs more people. It needs people with energy, it needs people with money."

Because of their proximity to commuter trains, neighborhoods from Mount Vernon to Charles Village are among those promoted in the campaign. That's fine. But a determined pitch should also be made for areas such as Ashburton, where wonderful, once-prestigious single-family houses with big lawns are begging for buyers at compelling prices. Or as one Baltimore booster said, "We've got the supply, Washington's got the demand."

For years, City Hall decision-makers resisted suggestions that Baltimore market itself in the District of Columbia area. Victims of a strange myopia, they feared that Baltimoreans would lose control of their own town if outsiders streamed in.

This, of course, is pathetic nonsense. So much of our housing stock is vacant that Baltimore desperately needs new residents who are willing to fall in love with its neighborhoods and spend money reinvigorating them. They may start as commuters, but often end up finding jobs and setting up businesses here.

Unprincipled real estate speculators are a different story. Baltimore had a bad experience with that bunch of Washingtonians two decades ago. They got in over their heads here, causing lasting harm in a number of marginal neighborhoods.

These days, those from D.C. who come to see us will realize Baltimore is not for everyone. Thank goodness for that. But we are ready to embrace committed new neighbors.

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