What would Schaefer do?

Baltimore needs to muster some of his 'do it now' attitude

May 01, 2011|By Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Last week, as we celebrated the life and legacy of William Donald Schaefer, many of us were overwhelmed with feelings of great nostalgia, renewed civic pride and new hope for Baltimore. His passing reminds us that we must always think about the bold possibilities of Baltimore's future and what the people of this city — Mayor Schaefer's true passion — can accomplish by working together to achieve greatness.

I was born in 1970, the year before William Donald Schaefer became mayor. For me, and an entire generation of residents, he set the standard for what it means to be the mayor. He taught us the importance of bold action — the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium, big league sports stadiums, to name a few. These investments were about more than buildings; they were about building new economies.

Famously, the night the Inner Harbor opened, a mayoral aide privately complimented Mayor Schaefer on what everyone hailed as a remarkable achievement. He responded by saying it was old news and asked: What are we doing next?

Mayor Schaefer understood that Baltimore's future comes one day at a time, and with each new day comes a new challenge to overcome, a new opportunity to embrace and drive forward, and a new future to shape and make our own. And, while nostalgia can be a strength, it can also stifle bold ideas even put artificial and arbitrary limits on new possibilities. The basis for Mayor Schaefer's greatest accomplishments was to constantly seek ways to reinvent Baltimore for the future, through hard work, sound compromise and fierce determination. That remains our charge today.

Even as we slowly recover from deep recession, there are bold plans and willing investors who are ready to create jobs, rebuild depressed areas of downtown, redevelop an aging office complex and bring new retail anchors and economic engines to our neighborhoods. We must put differences aside, acknowledge that compromise is not a dirty word, and work to rebuild Baltimore.

Here are just some of things we can do now to change the face of Baltimore for the better, strengthen our neighborhoods and create thousands of new jobs:

•Rebuild the West Side: The planned Superblock redevelopment must move forward. We can no longer allow benign neglect through inaction. The Lexington Square Project alone is estimated to create more than 600 construction jobs and, upon completion, approximately 750 permanent jobs. The redevelopment project will include 500,000 square feet of retail and residential space and parking, sparking further revitalization the West Side. And the compromise put forward to preserve the exterior walls of the Read's Drug Store building in honor of the 1955 sit-in, together with an appropriate commemoration, is the right way to honor the past and provide new job opportunities for the future.

•Renew State Center: This public-private partnership will dramatically overhaul the 28-acre site of office buildings and vast parking lots that feels so out of place in our city known for its diverse and connected neighborhoods. The new State Center will create minority contracting opportunities and thousands of new jobs while adding new retail and residential opportunities through a transit-oriented development. And the land will go back onto our tax rolls, ultimately helping to share the tax burden with homeowners and other companies across Baltimore.

•Welcome more retailers to neighborhoods: Too often, city residents have to travel to the suburbs to shop at their favorite stores. Baltimore can do more to offer a welcoming environment for retailers who create jobs and want to invest in our city. The 25th Street Station project is an example of how we can reinvest in large vacant parcels to strengthen our neighborhoods with new retail investments. I was proud to support this project. When complete and fully occupied, it will generate an estimated $62 million in economic activity and support more than 700 jobs inside of the development area, according to a University of Baltimore study.

•Maximize the slots development: This week, the Board of Estimates approved a preliminary agreement for applicants seeking to develop a slots facility in South Baltimore. Potential bidders for the city's site near the waterfront should think big and plan to offer a lot more than a suburban slots barn. With the right plan, the site can serve as an anchor to create more investment. I believe the site can be home to the premier gaming destination in the mid-Atlantic region because of its close proximity to downtown Baltimore's hotels, restaurants, shops and sports stadiums.

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