To appeal to Hogan, Red Line supporters zero in on business support

Red Line supports tout business support to appeal to Hogan

A coalition of Baltimore businesses is launching an advertising campaign to demonstrate support for the proposed Red Line light rail project to the public and Gov.-elect Larry Hogan.

"We all wanted to make sure that as the governor-elect is deliberating on his very challenging fiscal decisions over the next couple weeks, that there is an understanding that in the Baltimore region, the Red Line is an economic engine," said Bill Cole, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., who has helped organize the effort.

So far, the group has spent about $20,000 to place advertisements in local newspapers, including The Baltimore Sun, in the next week, and has partnered with the office of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to expand its network and drum up awareness.

"Unless we continue to strengthen our transportation infrastructure, we're putting an expiration date on our city and, for that matter, the state," Rawlings-Blake said. "I want the governor-elect to see very clearly that the strength of Baltimore and the region and investments in our infrastructure programs are very significant and in line with the messages he wants to promote — the economic vitality of the state."

The Red Line, estimated to cost $2.9 billion, would run east-west between the Woodlawn area and East Baltimore through and under downtown. It already has attracted substantial financial commitments from the federal government, as well as Baltimore and Baltimore County.

Still, Hogan — who has questioned the project's affordability — could derail it entirely by choosing to divert the substantial state funding slated for the project to other transportation priorities such as highway improvements.

The effort adds to others in recent weeks to support the Red Line, including a letter sent to Hogan by the Greater Baltimore Committee, which represents more than 500 businesses and educational and nonprofit institutions, including the Orioles, Under Armour, T. Rowe Price and The Baltimore Sun. The Sun's publisher, Tim Ryan, sits on the group's board of directors.

The new coalition includes The Waterfront Partnership and the Downtown Partnership; several major universities and hospitals such as the Johns Hopkins University and Mercy Medical Center; investment firms and development companies; regional utility Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.; law firms; and commercial outlets such as The Shops at Canton Crossing.

The effort also includes some smaller businesses, such as Early Charm Ventures, a firm that helps co-found entrepreneurial science companies and is based at the University of Maryland BioPark on West Baltimore Street.

Ken Malone, Early Charm principal, said he supports the Red Line because it would be a huge advantage for his existing workforce of about 10 people, but also for the company's future.

"As a technology entrepreneur, I know that a really vibrant downtown life is really important to attracting the young talent that I need, and without a viable transit system and walkable, liveable city, you don't get that," he said.

Through its ad campaign, the business coalition hopes to give Hogan sound economic reasons not to kill the project, estimating it will generate more than $4.5 billion in economic activity in the greater Baltimore region, create or support more than 9,000 construction jobs, and connect Baltimore residents to many more job opportunities. It also would support 35 separate transit-oriented development initiatives worth hundreds of millions of dollars and connect people with Main Street districts and arts and entertainment venues.

Richard Manekin, a partner with Workshop Development, which is developing multiple commercial and residential sites along the proposed Red Line route, said there is no other choice for Baltimore than to build the line if it wants to remain competitive with other growing cities.

"Younger people want to live in the city. They want to live in an urban area. They want excellent transit. Many of them don't want to own a car. And that good transit is really connectivity," he said. "We don't have good connectivity between systems right now."

Both Cole and Rawlings-Blake said they hope the effort makes clear to Hogan the enormous economic benefit the Red Line will bring to the city — a benefit that business leaders throughout the city believe in.

"The project is consistent with what he says he wants for the state," Rawlings-Blake said, "and I think it's important not to hit the pause button but to move forward."

krector@baltsun.com

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