Downtown Partnership hires a full-time staffer

Former city parks official is to spearhead effort for more retail development

July 27, 2004|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

In a push to attract more shops, restaurants and service-oriented businesses, and maybe even a department store, to the heart of Baltimore, the Downtown Partnership has hired a full-time staff member to spearhead its retail development effort.

Nan Rohrer, 30, has been named director of retail development. She comes to the organization from the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, where she was director of the office of partnerships. Before that, she served as a neighborhood liaison in the mayor's office of neighborhoods. Her salary is not being disclosed.

"It just seemed time, given the increased vitality downtown, for us to attack retail head on," said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership. "We want to set the bar high. We've been talking to numerous developers and city officials who think it's time to have a department store. We'll work hard to make it happen."

Fowler said he couldn't estimate how soon the city might acquire either a department store or new grocery store.

But the latest projection that the city's downtown neighborhood will be home to 10,000 residents by next year, is a threshold that key retailers look for in deciding where to locate, said Marshall Snively, the partnership's vice president of economic development and planning.

"We've been gauging retailer interest for a number of years," Snively said. "Now that we're at the 10,000 threshold, it's timely to have someone who can focus on it."

Also, the city has 13,100 students, 90,000 people work downtown, and 22 million people visit annually, according to his organization.

Rohrer will work with private developers, retailers, real estate brokers, and the city, including Baltimore Development Corp.

Downtown Partnership and BDC already join to market downtown to national retailers through trade shows and brochures. This new effort is designed to increase the visibility for promoting projects like the Superblock and Westside, to regional and national companies.

Her goal will be to help "create a thriving downtown that sees positive usage 24 hours a day," Rohrer said yesterday. "I think it's important to know what the people in the neighborhoods want to see."

To that end, she's asked them for "wish lists."

"The majority of people I talk to say, `I wish I could shop downtown,"' she said. "It's a need on all levels of income and age."

Part of the plan is to devise incentives, likely based on potential sales tax to be generated, that would make it even more appealing for businesses to locate here, partnership officials said. Those particular breaks would only be offered to retailers with a proven track record.

The city is underserved in terms of retail, downtown partnership officials say. "You should be able to travel within a quarter of a mile and get most of your needs satisfied," Fowler said. "You can't do that here for the wide variety of needs."

Rohrer arrives just as the Downtown Partnership has created two new, online databases to track available downtown office and retail space.

One of the new databases lists every downtown development, allowing the public to track $2.5 billion in projects, and the other lists vacant ground-level retail space in city center and on the west side. Both databases are fully searchable lists of properties that include addresses, broker contact information, property specifications and photographs. They can be accessed on the Downtown Partnership Web site.

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