Hans F. Mayer, who has helped line up financing for more than 170 economic development projects throughout the state as head of the Maryland Economic Development Corp., will retire from the quasi-public corporation today after a 17-year career.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has appointed Robert Brennan, assistant secretary for financing programs at the state Department of Business and Economic Development, as Mayer's replacement.
MEDCO, which uses its tax-free bonding authority to finance development projects, has been responsible for numerous politically popular and sometimes controversial projects, including the Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort near Cumberland, numerous student housing projects and the troubled Compass Pointe golf course in Pasadena.
Brennan will take over an agency that has been defined by Mayer, who has cultivated friendships in state and local governments as MEDCO has grown in stature as an economic development tool. Mayer, 63, who colleagues say planned to retire and was not forced out, was unavailable for comment yesterday.
"Frankly, Hans Mayer is MEDCO," said Casper R. Taylor, former House speaker and chairman of the Economic Matters Committee during much of Mayer's tenure. "He had such a dominant and long-lasting role in leading MEDCO that it's hard to envision it without him."
Mayer took over in 1987, three years after MEDCO was established by the legislature to acquire and redevelop a closed Fairchild aircraft plant in Washington County. The corporation evolved to become a critical backer of projects that private industry deemed too risky to attempt. It currently has projects and assets worth more than $1.5 billion scattered throughout the state.
Many of MEDCO's projects are small and receive scant attention.
But it has had its hands in financing several of the state's key economic engines. It played a role in the expansion of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Baltimore Museum of Art's purchase of the Lucas art collection and the expansion of the Maryland Science Center.
Some of Mayer's biggest and most politically popular initiatives have also been MEDCO's toughest.
Funded with $31.1 million in MEDCO revenue bonds in 1996, the Rocky Gap golf resort has failed to live up to financial projections, needing millions of dollars in additional state loans to stay afloat.
Mayer also faced a challenge with the luxury Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort, which was meant to revive Cambridge and Dorchester County after the region lost manufacturing jobs. The project became mired in cost overruns and legal disputes before its delayed opening in 2002.
"I wouldn't call them mistakes," said H. Lee Boatwright III, MEDCO's board chairman. "When you're doing as many projects as we've done over the years, the few that have had problems is certainly not a bad batting average. Sometimes projects don't work out as you thought, but that's just part of doing business."
MEDCO's investment in the Compass Pointe Golf Course generated controversy in 2001, particularly from private golf course owners who resented state money being spent to subsidize a competitor. That and other issues related to the project eventually led to legislation that gave the corporation broad authority to launch projects throughout the state. Compass Pointe has since struggled.
Business leaders and state lawmakers credit Mayer with bringing projects through despite challenges that might have turned away private investors. "Every region in this state has really benefited from MEDCO and Hans Mayer's direct involvement in those projects," said Sen. Philip Jimeno, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who sponsored the bill expanding MEDCO's authority in 2001.
"It's hard to argue that Rocky Gap has not had any significant impact on the Western Maryland area, and at the same time, I think the same can be said for the Hyatt [Regency]," said Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee.
Brennan said he is talking with MEDCO board members about expanding the corporation's programs and services, but any changes will be at least 90 to 120 days down the road.
"For 17 years this organization has been run by Hans Mayer, and it [started] as nothing but a very, very small shop that barely had two nickels to rub together, and he has continued to find innovative ways to build it," Brennan said. "If I can begin to replicate just a percentage of what he did, I will consider myself very successful."