On their own

February 25, 2007

It's a winning combination: One of the leading investment houses in the country joins with a proven development team to remain in Baltimore in a made-to-order office tower with a million-dollar view. Make that a mega-million-dollar view. It's a deal that sells itself, spells success and showcases the city's bona fides.

And there's no discernible reason why the developers should need the city's financial help.

They are millionaire John Paterakis and his H&S Properties Development Corp., and urban builder C. William Struever, whose Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse will serve as development manager. The project is for money manager Legg Mason Inc. The locale is Harbor East, the gold coast.

This is a win for everyone. Legg Mason gets the kind of office building it wants for its 21st-century business needs; the developers get a prominent tenant to anchor their new complex, which will also feature condos and a Four Seasons Hotel in a separate tower. The city achieves a top development priority - keeping Legg in the city.

Legg Mason's decision to remain in Baltimore instead of moving to Owings Mills contributes to the health and wealth of the city. It means 700 jobs stay here, and 200 to 300 Legg employees from Baltimore County will join them. Its new building will extend the parameters of downtown in much the same way the revitalized West Side is luring new tenants. It signals confidence in the city's business climate and its ability to do business.

Both Mr. Paterakis and Mr. Struever have benefited from city aid packages over the years. But when Mr. Paterakis agreed, at the urging of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, to build a new convention hotel on the northeast side of the harbor, the area was still a no-man's land. The city sweetened his interest with $20 million in subsidies. Mr. Paterakis last got help with paying city taxes in 2004 for his Spinnaker Bay apartments - a $13.6 million tax break. .

When such successful developers return again and again to the public trough, it encourages others to do the same. Take the pitch last week from U.S. Lacrosse for state and city assistance to build a harborside lacrosse palace, an eyebrow-raising request with an ultimatum to boot.

The Baltimore Development Corp. is reviewing a proposal for "financial assistance" from the developers of the Legg project; no one is sharing the specifics, but the BDC board should consider this:

Financial aid from the city should be reserved for projects most developers would shy away from. It should be used to encourage investment in struggling neighborhoods and to provide leverage for other projects or to complete public improvements.

It shouldn't be expected, nor should it be conveyed, simply because it's been done before. Those days should be over.

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