May 12, 2015

Business leaders pledge support for restoring Baltimore after riots

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Baltimore aerial photo by the Greater Baltimore Committee

Baltimore aerial photo by the Greater Baltimore Committee

Photo above: Baltimore Inner Harbor from Greater Baltimore Committee brochure. Below, the Inner Harbor and downtown in 1960.

Downtwoen Baltimore and Inner Harbor in 1960

By Len Lazarick

Len@MarylandReporter.com

The 60th anniversary annual meeting of the Greater Baltimore Committee Monday night was more resolute than joyous, as business leaders promised to focus on rebuilding and restoring a city whose long-simmering boiled into looting and arson covered in national and international media.

“I think we have to try some different things in Baltimore,” said Brian Rogers (CORRECTED 10:17 a.m.), chairman of T. Rowe Price, the large mutual fund company, and retiring chairman of the GBC. “There will need to be hard work to overcome the images of Baltimore” from the days of unrest, such as the photo of the baseball game played in an any empty Orioles Park that ran on the front page of the Financial Times of London. (A similar image was a two-page spread in Time magazine.)

Incoming GBC chairman David Warnock, managing partner of the investment firm Camden Partners, said, “Much rebuilding needs to begin but most of it is in the area of trust. The breach in our collective confidence that we can tackle the serious inequities and poverty that plague our city is real and will only be overcome with leadership and collaboration at all levels.”

The crowd of about 700 at the dinner at the Baltimore Hilton that backs up to Orioles Park included some of the top business and political leaders of the region, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. (The stadium was only half filled for what was billed as “reopening day.”)

Those at the dinner reaffirmed their own commitment to Baltimore by pledging over $150,000 in less than two hours via text message during the course of the dinner. That will be matched by $50,000 from GBC and go to a Baltimore Business Recovery Fund to aid businesses damaged in the rioting with limited or no insurance.

Associated with major building projects

Ironically, the Greater Baltimore Committee was founded in 1955 when Baltimore had reached the peak of it population at nearly 950,000 people. Population has dropped by a third over the six decades and is now at 623,000.

The GBC is associated with helping lead or promote some of the major physical enhancements that have become the image of Baltimore to the world — the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium, the convention center and the two downtown stadiums.

GBC was one of the first and most consistent advocates of building mass transit in Baltimore from the subway to light rail. It is now an ardent proponent of building the east-west Red Line in the city, a prospect applauded several times at Monday’s dinner.

“In the wake of Freddie Gray, is there a bigger near term job stimulus program than kicking off the Red Line?” Warnock asked.

Turning to human capital

In the last 15 years, the GBC has turned from capital projects to more of the human capital in Baltimore, especially after the recent protests and violence.

“How do we heal?” asked Don Fry, GBC president for the past 15 years.

“First we must work together to restore city neighborhoods — not just the businesses in the neighborhoods, but the people and the neighborhoods.”

“There is clearly much work to be done to address long-simmering issues that require serious attention, not just to get beyond the recent violence, but to resolve important and economic and quality of life challenges.”

The GBC plans to enlarge an already existing major program called Bridge the Gap, aimed at helping women- and minority-owned businesses, Fray said. He also chairs the Hire One Youth program, to give jobs to teenagers. At the event where she was praised for her handling of the disturbances, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake suggested this summer it become the “Hire Two” youths program.

Help for ex-convicts, praise for police

Warnock urged changes in state law and policy that would make it easier for those charged with crimes and not convicted, or those released from prison to get jobs.

Yet Warnock also praised the Baltimore police, which drew applause from the dinner audience, and for State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby who is prosecuting the police in the death of Freddie Gray.

Fry admitted that Baltimore’s forward momentum, which includes a influx of millenials living in downtown, “has been paused, and is potentially a setback.”

But, he said, “We’re going to continue to play a leadership role.”

“This isn’t first time seeds of real change are sown in a time of trouble,” said Warnock. “This is not the first wakeup call, but it’s the one this generation needs to answer.”

  • Vidi

    So “we must work together to restore city neighborhoods”. How? Have we done this before? If yes, why did we fail? What “work” specifically does the GBC suggest we do? How will we fund it? Will GBC? Or does it expect the government to step in once again – and fail.

    • abby_adams

      Translated as “more money, more money, more money” with little oversight or accountability. We’ve been down this rat hole for the past 40 years. Either pay up or there will be even more unrest? How can the city survive if even more property & income taxed residents vote with their feet & leave?

      • Dale McNamee

        I guess that they didn’t read the Baltimore Sun article on how $ 137 million disappeared in Sandtown-Winchester.

        The money’s gone, Sandtown-Winchester is still full of abandoned houses and other decrepitude, and nobody’s accountable…

        They should use their own funds to fuel this moronicy…

        The taxpayers have had quite enough !

  • abby_adams

    City residents along the proposed “Red Line” aren’t as pleased as the GBC about the expansion of mass transit. Oh sure the line will be filled west to east but east to west? The light rail isn’t the cure for Baltimore’s ills. Those taxpayers footing the bills want more accountability from city government not another so called plan to add even more crime to their neighborhoods!

    • Dale McNamee

      Public transit has helped spread crime over the years…

      The homeless use light rail cars as homes …

      And the ” economic development” preceded the light rail or other public
      transit expansion…

      Why would anyone want to establish a transit stop where there’s nothing there ?

      And what of the traffic congestion caused by the construction ?

      But, let’s not trouble their dreams with reality…

  • Andrew

    Under this city hall, we are about to become the next Detroit. I agree entirely with Vidi; Support, in Baltimore City parlance, means pumping more money in to the usual failing institutions, practices and non-profits who have an entirely wrong approach to improving anything. Firstly, this beast needs to be starved. A lowering of the per-pupil cost of education will force them to focus on what makes a difference which is actually hotting the books and extra hours, not new sport equipment and all these BS “innovative programs”. Technology has nothing to do with what BC inner-city kids need. Eliminating the bureaucracy of building permits in the city will allow developers to get on with putting value in the city. Anything that promotes gentrification and security will increase Baltimore’s chances of coming back.
    A war on crime will give people a sense that Baltimore is serious. Killing the Red Line will give actual real taxpayers, not liberal freeloaders, a sense that their investment in the city is safe.