Marketing campaign is urged to lure businesses downtown

Mayor appointed panel in December to find ways to revitalize city center

April 06, 2011|By Lorraine Mirabella, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore officials are launching a marketing campaign in which current businesses will help lure companies from outside the city center to a downtown struggling with high office vacancies.

The new campaign, announced Wednesday, is one of several strategies a mayoral task force is recommending to reduce downtown's 19 percent office vacancy rate. The campaign will promote an urban lifestyle and will rely in part on testimonials from existing corporate tenants. It will be led by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc. and the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.

"Downtown office vacancies are an issue we're seeing in a number of cities, including Baltimore," said Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who appointed in December the task force of office brokers, architects, and federal, state and city officials to come up with strategies to tackle the empty-space problem.

The report recommends developing new government incentive programs, such as tax credits, that could be targeted to entrepreneurs and start-up companies. The task force also suggests targeting service companies that have contracts with existing hospitals, universities or other firms as potential new downtown tenants.

Other goals include establishing a plan for existing and future government office space, and creating a plan to reuse downtown office buildings that have high vacancies or are obsolete.

Concerns over downtown's future and its high office vacancies have emerged in the past several months as downtown commercial property owners and others have fought state officials' plans for a $1.5 billion project in midtown Baltimore that would transform the aging State Center government complex into a mix of new offices, housing and shops. Among other arguments, opponents say the project will divert tenants from downtown's commercial hub.

On Wednesday, downtown property owners seeking to squelch the State Center redevelopment plan took their case to Baltimore Circuit Court, arguing that the project should be halted because public officials did not follow state procurement laws. The property owners filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court in December.

Judge Althea M. Handy heard testimony to determine whether the opponents had legal standing to present their case. She said she would rule on the matter as soon as possible.

Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Gunts contributed to this article.

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