Slump took about 1,300 jobs out of downtown in a year

First loss since mid-1990s

city's heart is viewed as diverse and stable

January 17, 2003|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Downtown Baltimore lost 1.4 percent of its job base, or about 1,300 positions, in the 12 months that ended June 30, according to the annual report of a business organization that has been seeking to stem the flow of workers out of the city.

The Downtown Partnership said there was not much city leaders could have done in an economic downturn to have saved the jobs.

The report, which is to be sent to the group's members next week, says that, in percentage terms, downtown's loss was less than that of the city as a whole, but larger than both the greater Baltimore region's and Maryland's.

"I'm wearing glasses, but they are not rose-colored," said Michele Whelley, president of the Downtown Partnership. "Given the economy, we are very pleased with how stable downtown is. Our diversity has proven to be our salvation."

Whelley said downtown's mix of cultural, medical and educational institutions; its businesses; and its growing apartment market have helped bring and keep people downtown. Whelley said the job losses were the first since the mid-1990s, and 93,500 people now work downtown.

Baltimore has struggled with companies moving and downsizing. The report includes losses at Deutsche Bank and Bank of America. The 657 layoffs announced this week as a result of M&T Bank's purchase of Allfirst Financial Inc. will be recorded in next year's report.

According to the report, the white-collar job base continued to erode while hospitality-related service jobs increased. New jobs at restaurants in the Power Plant Live entertainment district offset losses at hotels resulting from the post-9/11 travel slump, the report said. Hospitals, universities and government, which is downtown's largest employer, all had marginal job growth.

Despite the trends, developers have been adding new top-tier office space. But they have also redeveloped older office buildings into upscale apartment buildings, although they are not yet fully leased. Hotels are under construction even though the travel sector has yet to rebound. Several garages are going up.

Whelley said all of the construction cranes are a good sign.

"We're creating a better environment that will make us well-positioned for the economic turnaround," Whelley said. "We're not accepting what's been accepted in the past."

The Downtown Partnership plans to focus on various downtown improvements. Officials will continue programs that supplement cleaning and safety crews provided by the city. The group will work on improving the appearance of downtown with streetscape upgrades.

Officials also said that workers will aggressively maintain the relationships built with existing businesses -- which provide 80 percent of the job growth -- in an effort to gain commitments to the city.

"Downtown Baltimore continued to show considerable strength in the areas of office, parking and residential development as well as institutional investment," said James L. Shea, chairman of the Downtown Partnership and managing partner of the law firm Venable, Baetjer and Howard.

"For downtown to achieve its full potential, especially in a time of economic uncertainty, we must continue to tackle the strategic issues -- such as cleanliness, attractiveness, safety and panhandling -- important to every downtown business."

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