Flanagan says city is failing to use transit projects to boost development

State transportation chief says Penn Station area is a concern

September 23, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan criticized Baltimore's economic development efforts yesterday, saying that the city has failed to capitalize on opportunities to revitalize the neighborhood around Penn Station.

His remarks -- which some interpreted as a slap at Mayor Martin O'Malley by a high-ranking Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. administration official -- came at a regional transportation summit. Flanagan warned that the city would have to do a better job to compete for scarce federal transit dollars.

"Baltimore has not yet figured out ... how to make transit projects [stimulate] economic development," he told a group of business leaders, government officials and community activists at the World Trade Center.

His comments gave a political tone to an otherwise wonkish discussion of transportation priorities for the Baltimore region, and it drew a gentle rebuke from David Gillece, chairman of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.

"Transportation is not a partisan issue," Gillece said.

Flanagan, a former Republican lawmaker, said Ehrlich is concerned that transit-oriented development has not occurred around Penn Station.

Without mentioning O'Malley's name, Flanagan implied that the Democratic mayor and potential Ehrlich rival -- who had spoken earlier and left to attend a Board of Estimates meeting -- was responsible.

"There seems to be a fear of opening these properties to market forces," Flanagan said. "Government cannot do this alone. We are not going to have a success story with government acting alone."

Competition

Maryland is seeking federal money for several transportation projects in Baltimore, including an east-west Red Line of light rail trains or rapid buses and an extension of the existing Green Line subway to Morgan State University.

Flanagan said the process is very competitive, with about $17 billion in projects proposed nationwide and only $2.4 billion available. He said the city's economic development shortcomings could hurt its chances.

His criticism was coupled with an offer to lend the expertise of his agency's "award-winning planning group" to help the city with development around the train station.

Flanagan punctuated his remarks by displaying a map showing the areas of the city that lost population during the 1990s and an aerial photograph showing vacant city-owned properties in the neighborhood.

Remarks a `disservice'

He infuriated some city officials at the summit, sponsored by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and Greater Baltimore Committee, among others.

Deputy Mayor Jeanne D. Hitchcock told Flanagan his remarks were "a disservice to this region."

She told him he was focused on the past decade and ignoring progress made in the city in recent years.

"It was disrespectful, I thought, to the people who were gathered here," Hitchcock said.

Flanagan has previously criticized the city's decision to locate a new Greyhound bus terminal near Ravens stadium rather than by Penn Station, but he did not mention that issue yesterday.

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