James A.C. Kennedy, chief executive of money manager T. Rowe Price Group, a major downtown employer that leases its headquarters tower on Pratt Street, said he's "100 percent" in favor of a surcharge increase. "The incremental fees they're asking for are very worth the money," he said. "We're more than willing to pay our fair share."
The surcharge went into effect in 1992, the last time the city was struggling under the aftereffects of a recession and real estate downturn. Businesses and property owners were concerned that downtown revitalization would stall if they didn't create a fund to keep the streets clean and safe.
Now the Downtown Partnership has a wish list of projects looking for funding. Installing more video cameras and pedestrian-level lighting for safety. Taking down the neglected Baltimore Street skywalk. Creating a park with fountains on President Street.
"We don't want the traditional core of downtown to have a dated feel to it," said Fowler, the head of the partnership.
Businesses are already raising money for another long-wanted project — removing the tall berms along Pratt Street, which hem in pedestrians and drive property owners crazy, Evitts said. But that's another item on the to-do list for a capital fund if the fundraising effort falls short.
The city's proposed capital budget does have some money for downtown projects, including work to make Hopkins Plaza at Baltimore and Charles streets a more inviting place to gather. But sources of capital-project funding that aren't already earmarked are down, in some cases to zero.
"It's a pretty austere kind of budget," said Thomas Stosur, the city's planning director.
The Downtown Partnership's budget, along with any surcharge increase, must be approved by the city's Board of Estimates. That decision is set for April 30. A public meeting is planned next Tuesday for downtown property owners and tenants to weigh in.
Evitts said all property owners have been notified by letter. Three have complained, but they were mollified to learn that their increases would work out to less than $150 even if their assessed values don't drop, he said.
Councilman Bill Henry, the City Council's representative to the planning commission, said the surcharge proposal "shows an incredible amount of forethought."
"I see this as a willingness among downtown businesses to reinvest in the city," said Henry, who represents parts of North and Northeast Baltimore. "That's going to be a good thing for all of us."