T. Rowe Price, a fixture in downtown Baltimore since its founding 76 years ago, is considering moving its headquarters once its current lease expires in 2017, the company said Wednesday.
The Baltimore-based money manager is weighing several options, including building a new headquarters on a number of vacant sites downtown, said spokesman Brian Lewbart. Possibilities include Harbor Point, where Exelon Corp. plans to erect its regional headquarters, as well as the former McCormick & Co. spice factory site at Conway and Light streets, which is now a parking lot, he said.
But Price might also pack up and move corporate offices to the 16-year-old Owings Mills campus, where the company already has a half-dozen office buildings, Lewbart said.
It also may stay put at 100 E. Pratt St. just as it did the last time its lease expired.
Price typically explores its office options several years before that happens, Lewbart said.
"This is really a similar evaluation to what we did back prior to signing the current lease we have," Lewbart said.
In 2004, Price signed a letter of intent to remain at its Pratt Street headquarters, although the lease didn't expire until 2007, he said.
Price has 1,256 employees in downtown, as well as 2,611 in Owings Mills.
A move to Baltimore County would be a severe loss to the city. And even a new office tower outside the central business district would be another blow to an area that has been losing tenants to revitalized waterfronts east of the Inner Harbor.
For example, energy giant Exelon, which acquired Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group, is starting construction this summer on a 23-story skyscraper at Harbor Point. Price's crosstown rival, Legg Mason Inc., also moved out of its 100 Light St. headquarters and into a new tower in Harbor East in 2009.
Price has been talking about the possibility of remaining at its current headquarters for about a year, said Bruce Matthai, senior managing director of Cassidy Turley, which handles leasing for the building's owner, Columbia Property Trust in Georgia.
The company has occupied the Pratt Street building since it opened in 1975, Matthai said. The money manager leases 13 floors, or about 421,000 square feet, making it by far the largest tenant in the 650,000-square-foot building.
"The building worked very well for them," said Matthai, citing, for example, its location in the heart of the central business district.
"They have been out doing their own planning and thinking about what the things are that they would like," Matthai said. "The landlord will do everything they can to keep them as a valued tenant."
Drew Cunningham, senior vice president of real estate transactions for Columbia Property Trust, said in a statement: "T. Rowe Price is one of our many long-term valued tenants and it's not uncommon for tenants, even with several years remaining on their leases, to start reviewing their options. 100 East Pratt is a terrific property and we're confident in its appeal now and going forward."
The landlord isn't the only one wanting to keep Price.
"T. Rowe Price is a great company that is part of Baltimore," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. "I personally and my administration will work very hard to keep them in Baltimore."
She said she intends to meet with Price president and CEO James A.C. Kennedy, and instructed the city-run Baltimore Development Corp. to reach out to the company.
Brenda McKenzie, the BDC's president and CEO, said she had done just that on Wednesday. Though she hasn't spoken to company executives yet, she said she plans to convey to them that the company is an important corporate partner to Baltimore.
"They are a wonderful anchor to the central business district," said McKenzie, adding that she hasn't heard from Price that it wants to leave.
"I think they love their location. We love having them here," she said.
Other business and economic development groups took comfort from the news that most options under consideration keep Price in the city.
"Certainly, they have a storied tradition in the city," said J. Thomas Sadowski, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. "The good news is they are looking to stay."
Even when Price expanded into Owing Mills, he added, the company remained open in its commitment to Baltimore city and the region.
Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said Price has always had a significant presence here and he would even like to see it expand operations in the city.
"It is not uncommon for a company, out of due diligence, to consider a location in Baltimore County, especially recognizing that it has a presence there," Fry wrote in an email.
He called the prospect of losing Price to the county a warning to city officials.
"This underscores the importance to Baltimore City of being competitive in the cost of doing business and not imposing financial burdens on city businesses that place the city at a disadvantage compared to surrounding counties," he wrote.
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