Catholic Relief Services pleased with prospect of new headquarters

Chosen proposal includes elbow room for agency

October 25, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Development Corp.'s recommendation yesterday that RLJ Development LLC develop Baltimore's proposed headquarters hotel brought good news for RLJ's partner, Catholic Relief Services, which has been seeking a new home for more than three years.

The proposal by Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, and Quadrangle Development Corp. provides 200,000 square feet of office space for Catholic Relief Services.

The international assistance agency, which employs 350 people in its Baltimore offices, had considered moving out of the city, from its home on West Fayette Street, in its search for a larger headquarters.

"We're very happy," said Patrick Johns, director for administrative services for Catholic Relief. "It's been a long time coming for us."

The Catholic Relief part of the project is expected to cost $25 million to $26 million. The new space will allow the agency to handle an expanded staff of 500 people.

"It was the BDC that said, `Why don't the two of you team up and submit a joint proposal?'" Johns said. "Some of the other options that the city was able to present to us, frankly, just didn't cut it."

His organization had certain requirements, including that the future headquarters have quick access to the airport and to Washington, where Catholic Relief has another office.

The BDC went back to the two other developers who applied for the job shortly before their best and final proposals were due in September. It asked them to also include plans for the Catholic Relief offices and the necessary parking.

Some critics had puzzled over why the agency should be located on such prime real estate.

The controversy over the organization's project has been somewhat troubling, Johns said.

"But you're never going to please everyone," he said. "We're just happy to come up with a viable option that keeps us in the city."

Johns said he knows that the ensuing process will not be quick.

And he, for one, has never assumed that the Johnson group would get the deal.

"The other two teams were solid teams," he said. "That gave me cause for some concern."

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