Federal Hill businesses looking to hire private security for commercial district

Federal Hill businesses are looking to deploy private security teams around the South Baltimore neighborhood’s bars and shops by April 1 to deter crime and make residents and visitors feel safer.

Craig Stoner, president of Federal Hill Main Street, said Wednesday that the nonprofit association is seeking proposals from security firms to spend more than $300,000 a year to send unarmed guards throughout the business district, including Light, Hanover, Montgomery and Ostend streets. The guards would not have arrest powers and residential areas in the historic community could be covered if the funding can be worked out.

“Sales are down, retail is down and everyone is fed up,” Stoner said. “We’re trying to address the issue.”

Violent crime is surging in the city, which experienced 341 homicides in 2017, the deadliest year in the city’s history on a per-capita basis. Stories of armed robberies, muggings and carjackings abound.

Several communities across the city hire additional security to supplement police presence.

Funding for the guards in Federal Hill still must be assembled, Stoner said. The Main Street Association is reaching out to businesses, hospitality groups, neighborhood associations and residents to figure out what financing is available and ask various stakeholders what they’re willing to contribute.

“We have to work together,” said Stoner, adding that there’s the possibility of hosting fundraising events such as festivals. “We have to be creative about how we go after funds. Everyone is going to have to pay their part.”

Stoner said the association is looking for security coverage seven days a week, but how many hours guards would work a day or how they would be deployed has not been decided. The nonprofit issued requests for proposals Friday and expects to hear back from companies by the end of the month, he said.

Conversations about hiring security started about four months ago by asking neighborhood businesses if they wanted more cleaning and greening efforts, Stoner said. Greening is adding plants and trees.

The clear response was, he said: “Greening is not the problem. It is crime.”

Hank Shofer, owner of the 104-year-old Shofer’s Furniture at 930 S. Charles St., said the guards will help create the perception of safety, and that perception is a bigger battle than any actual crime in the neighborhood. The main purpose is to make people feel safe, he said.

“We’re having an issue downtown — and really the whole city — of this business that ‘it’s not safe,’ ” Shofer said. “I would argue that is being magnified by a lot of negative press. As soon as one thing happens, it goes viral. It’s all perception based.”

Stoner said he expects the effort to be similar to one in nearby Fells Point. The Waterfront Partnership is administering a security program that started there last month and will cost the community about $200,000 a year.

Laurie Schwartz, the nonprofit’s president, said the addition of security guards in Fells Point was prompted by concerns from local business owners. The guards generally work from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. to help with bar-related activity, she said.

The Waterfront Partnership has had “safety guides” for more than a decade who primarily act as hospitality ambassadors around the waterfront, communicating any problems they see to police, she said. They are out from about 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“It’s a challenging time right now and safety is on a lot of people’s minds,” Schwartz said. “I can understand Federal Hill wanting to organize private additional safety.”

ywenger@baltsun.com

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