Brenda McKenzie, who heads the economic development division of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, has been chosen to lead the Baltimore Development Corp.
“I’m bullish on Baltimore,” McKenzie said after she was introduced Monday afternoon by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at City Hall.
McKenzie said that as the president and CEO of the city’s quasi-public economic development arm, she would encourage transparency and that she plans to have an open door and open phone line.
When McKenzie takes over Dec. 17, she will be only the second person to lead the BDC in its current form, with a private-sector board of directors. For 16 years, M.J. “Jay” Brodie led the nonprofit organization that is under contract with the city to provide services, including the sale of some city-owned properties, commercial revitalization and business development.
“Brenda comes here with energy, she comes here with optimism,” Rawlings-Blake said.
About 50 people applied to be the BDC’s leader, roughly a dozen were interviewed and a handful were passed on to Rawlings-Blake for review, said Arnold Williams, chairman of the BDC’s board of directors. The Florida-based executive search firm Gans, Gans & Associates oversaw the selection process. Members of Baltimore’s business community helped vet the candidates.
“Brenda really just shined” during the interview process, said J. Thomas Sadowski, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. He was impressed with her understanding of the connection between business success and the ability of neighborhoods to thrive, he said.
Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said McKenzie appears to be “the total package when it comes to economic development,” citing her work experience in both the private and public spheres.
“Her background includes a blend of strategic planning, marketing, deal making and an appreciation of the importance of neighborhoods to economic development,” he said.
She will be paid $200,000 a year, according to Ryan O’Doherty, the mayor’s spokesman.
McKenzie has been the director of economic development at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Boston’s planning and economic development agency, since 2008. She said she currently oversees a staff of about 100 people. According to Rawlings-Blake’s office, McKenzie “facilitated $15 billion in private development” throughout Boston during the past four years.
“Brenda McKenzie has been a terrific advocate for business in Boston, helping companies locate and grow in all parts of our city,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “We wish her great success in her new endeavor.”
Before the Boston job, McKenzie was a senior manager of global responsibility for Starbucks Coffee and held several high-level development and planning positions with the city of Chicago. As deputy commissioner for Chicago’s planning department, McKenzie “oversaw over $1.8 billion in residential and retail development, including 7,000 new housing units,” acording to a statement from the mayor’s office.
The large number of residences McKenzie helped spur in Chicago was highlighted Monday by Rawlings-Blake, who is promoting the development of new rental housing in downtown as part of her initiative to expand the city’s population.
While in Illinois, McKenzie also started Kenzie Enterprises LLC, which focused on managing private development. She also was a licensed real estate broker at the time, according to public records.
McKenzie, 45, holds an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The city dignitaries who praised McKenzie on Monday at City Hall were keen to draw comparisons between Baltimore and Boston. McKenzie’s success in Massachusett’s largest city, a major port with a rich array of neighborhoods, should translate to success here, they said.
“Ms. McKenzie’s immediate past experience in Boston — a city much like Baltimore, with great educational and research institutions — and her experience with workforce development, land redevelopment, financing, community partnering and waterfront projects will be a tremendous asset to BDC and the City of Baltimore,” said Williams, the BDC chairman.
One similarity between Boston and Baltimore that McKenzie is going to face is the transfer of a well-known shopping center’s leasing rights to a New York-based real estate investment firm.
During her time at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, McKenzie was instrumental in coordinating a meeting between the merchants of Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. Last year, Ashkenazy acquired the leasing rights for the Rouse Co.-designed retail complex from General Growth Properties.
Baltimore’s own Rouse Co. shopping center, Harborplace, currently is being transferred from General Growth to Ashkenazy.
General Growth did not want the merchants to meet with Ashkenazy, said Carol Troxell, president of the Faneuil Hall Merchants Association. But McKenzie advocated on the merchants’ behalf, she said.
“She did open that door, and she made sure that meeting happened,” Troxell said. “Brenda was lovely to work with. We’re happy for her but we’ll miss her.”
Kim Clark, who has been acting as interim president since Brodie's departure, said she will stay on as executive vice president of the BDC. Clark said McKenzie was to be introduced to the BDC’s staff Monday afternoon.
McKenzie said her first goal is to meet with and learn about the desires of the economic development “stakeholders” in Baltimore. Although the city has many built-in advantages, including its location and a strong business community, she said she is not blind to its challenges.
“We do have a lot of work that we need to do,” McKenzie said.
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