Legg Mason says it won't leave city after lease expires

But money manager declines to reveal if it will stay in tower

February 02, 2007|By Paul Adams and Jill Rosen | Paul Adams and Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

Legg Mason Inc. said yesterday that it will not leave Baltimore after the lease on its office expires in 2009, but declined to say it is committed to staying in the signature tower that bears its name.

The money manager's comments came after a city official said yesterday that the mayor's office and economic development officials have been working with the company for more than a year to make sure it stays in town.

Legg and its roughly 1,000 employees are part of a cornerstone in the downtown business community, and its name is a prominent feature of the city's skyline. Its departure from the office tower at 100 Light St. would leave a sizable hole in what is the city's tallest building at 35 stories.

"We're committed to Baltimore," said Mary Athridge, a spokeswoman for Legg. "The intention was always to stay in Baltimore."

Concern about Legg's plans after 2009 grew this week when the company amended its corporate bylaws to strike wording that says the firm's headquarters must be in Baltimore. The new language says the headquarters will be at "such place as the board of directors may designate."

Athridge said the change - one of a number of streamlining measures - was to bring the bylaws in line with that of other corporations, which typically do not specify a headquarters location.

The bylaws had not been changed in many years and were due to be updated, Athridge said.

Andy Frank, deputy mayor for neighborhoods and economic development, said the Baltimore Development Corp. has been working with Legg for more than a year to address any concerns it might have about staying downtown. He said that with the lease set to expire in 2009, the company "needs to make some decision soon."

"This is a high priority for everyone right now," said Frank, a former BDC vice president who recently was named deputy mayor. "I'm confident that at the end of the day they're going to keep their headquarters in Baltimore."

Frank added that the city is doing everything it can to retain Legg, but he declined to comment on the specifics of what, if anything, the city might be offering the company as inducements.

BDC officials did not return telephone calls this week. A representative of the real estate firm that owns Legg's building did not respond to a phone message yesterday.

City officials said last March that they hoped a 10-story parking garage being developed by the tower's owners would be enough to keep Legg from considering a move from its current location. Parking has long been a concern for tenants in the building. The new garage will have space for 500 cars.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the BDC, said at the time that the organization had been in discussions with Legg about its space requirements since before the firm announced in 2005 that it was entering a $3.7 billion deal to swap its brokers for Citigroup Inc.'s asset management business. Brodie said the company is going through the kind of assessment that is typical of companies with leases that are set to expire in a few years.

Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, said yesterday that it is routine for city economic development officials to check in with companies whose leases are due to expire, and to work with them on retention issues.

He added that Legg is likely just keeping its options open, as companies often do in similar situations.

paul.adams@baltsun.com

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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