Budget cuts would eliminate four of 10 Main Streets projects

Baltimore Development Corp. outlines reduced scope of activities for mayor

March 31, 2010|By Robbie Whelan | Baltimore Sun reporter

Four of Baltimore's 10 Main Streets initiatives would be eliminated under proposed budget cuts to the city's economic development arm.

Officials from the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp., which works to create and retain jobs and redevelop commercial property in the city, outlined a scaled-back version of the agency's activities for Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake at a budget hearing Tuesday.

The Main Streets program, which is based on a plan developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, makes grants to small businesses for facade and streetscape improvements as a way of attracting more business and foot traffic to certain areas of the city.

Ten Baltimore neighborhoods - Belair-Edison, Brooklyn, East Monument Street, Federal Hill, Fells Point, Hamilton-Lauraville, Highlandtown, Pennsylvania Avenue, Pigtown and Waverly - have benefited from the program, which had a budget of $978,805 for this year.

That budget will be trimmed to $775,593, and four of the Main Streets projects, including the Historic Federal Hill Main Street, will be "graduated," according to BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie. Another BDC official said the other three Main Streets initiatives to be cut had not yet been determined.

City agencies began presenting their proposed cuts last week, and they will continue for the rest of this week as the city struggles to plug a projected budget gap of more than $120 million by midsummer, when the City Council must approve a fiscal plan.

Overall, the BDC's budget from the city's general fund will rise from $3.28 million to $4.04 million. Most of that $755,437 increase is accounted for by $575,000 in general funds to be given to the Emerging Technology Center, a high-tech business incubator that in recent years has produced startup companies in renewable energy, telecommunications, medical devices and other industries.

The city will also spend $135,855 more this coming year on " Inner Harbor Coordination" efforts, which Brodie described as "detailed enforcement of leases, some of which we didn't even know existed." Colin Tarbert, a member of the BDC's East Baltimore development team, will continue to serve as the Inner Harbor coordinator, a position previously held by Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank, a former BDC official who announced last month that he would be leaving city government in May.

The increase in general funds going to the BDC will be offset by a reduction in the agency's capital budget, which comes from the issuance of city-backed general obligation bonds and is used for acquisition and development of property.

For each year, fiscal 2010 and 2011, $7 million in these bonds are expected to be issued on the BDC's behalf, down from $10 million in 2009.

Kimberly Clark, the agency's executive vice president, said that at one point the BDC had more than $12 million in annual capital reserves. For fiscal 2012, the BDC has $2.4 million in capital funds.

Brodie said Tarbert's efforts would also be geared toward encouraging development of two prime Inner Harbor parcels at 300 E. Pratt St. and 414 Light St., both of which have been mentioned as potential sites for skyscraper office buildings.

"Someone going by might say, 'Gee, there's no plan here. It's vague, it's patchwork,' " Brodie said of the Inner Harbor.

"But ... the work that we do is not a sprint, it's a marathon," he said. "We need an adequate amount of funding to bring results."

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