Civic group aims to convince revitalization plan `skeptics'

Greater Baltimore Committee focuses on harbor, east, west sides

May 03, 2002|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Leaders of an influential business and civic group said yesterday that although it might not appear that Baltimore has changed significantly in the past year, much behind-the-scenes groundwork has been laid for the kind of revitalization effort not seen in the city in decades.

The Greater Baltimore Committee, which held its annual meeting last night, engaged an audience of more than 800 at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore hotel in something part pep rally and part realistic goal-setting.

"We need to get people to believe this stuff is really happening," Francis B. Burch Jr., GBC chairman and co-chairman of Piper Rudnick LLP, said before the event yesterday.

The GBC is charged with improving economic conditions in the region and has been focused for more than a year on the west side, the east side and the waterfront.

Burch and GBC President Donald P. Hutchinson said Baltimore is filled with "skeptics," partly because some past efforts at redevelopment have fizzled.

"But we can't let the static drown out the orchestra here," Burch said.

Leaders have learned from mistakes and taken a different approach that leverages assets in the city to lure private investment, the two said.

The focus is on:

The west side, where the University of Maryland anchors public and private investment in the Hippodrome Performing Arts Center and Centerpoint, a large apartment and retail complex being developed by Bank of America. An apartment building developed by Southern Management Corp. has opened and is expected to fill with students and professionals.

The east side, where a biotechnology park and housing are planned on 100 acres north of John Hopkins Hospital. The city is putting together a nonprofit organizing board and plans to start buying land. Officials expect to capitalize on researchers' and companies' interest in locating near Hopkins.

The waterfront, the most successful of the areas, where a plan is under way to ensure future management of existing developments and promote new ones. Developers have announced plans to build on parcels that surround the Harborplace pavilions, the Power Plant, the National Aquarium and other retail and entertainment projects.

In each case, the city has been called on to contribute money or leadership. But each area builds on the assets already there and calls on private sources to offer additional investment.

Some proposals have stalled because of the slumping economy and a lack of financing and tenants to fill new buildings. But the GBC leaders expect those circumstances to change. Meanwhile, they want to sustain momentum by improving attitudes.

Hutchinson pointed to the Camden Yards sports complex and the Harborplace pavilions as projects that drew much criticism when they were proposed. Both are now considered success stories for the numbers of visitors they draw and the spinoff investment that surrounds them, he said.

"People couldn't have a vision of what the old harbor would look like," he said. "They couldn't have a vision of what the old rail yard would look like. ... This is a city of skeptics. It's very important to show progress."

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