Beatty and Paterakis met, appropriately enough, over a development deal: Beatty was working on the foreclosure of the hotel at the Baltimore Travel Plaza and says with a laugh that Paterakis tried to "steal" the property from him with a lowball offer. Paterakis then told him that if Beatty thought the property was such a great deal, maybe the two of them should join forces to develop it, the younger man said.

They did, and ultimately created H&S Properties Development in 1995 to build Harbor East. (Paterakis did not respond to requests for interviews for this article.)

Moving into development allowed Beatty to pursue his love of design — he would have become an architect like his father, he said, but he can't draw.

"Michael has always been very respectful to John, and I think John always gave Michael the space to be creative … and the funding," said Doug Becker, the CEO of Laureate Education, who is close to both Beatty and Paterakis.

Becker's company, formerly Sylvan Learning Systems, was Harbor East's first tenant and is in its third building in the neighborhood. Beatty was "incredibly diligent" about making sure he understood Sylvan's and then Laureate's needs, and keeping the company in the neighborhood even as it grew, Becker said.

"The first building he built for us was professional but not really notable," he said. "You can see the architectural standard and ambition grow. I've been delighted in how the neighborhood has progressed."

Landing the company was something of a coup for the developers — it was the first time in more than 20 years that a national company of Sylvan's size had moved its headquarters to Baltimore City, in this case from suburban Columbia.

Struever, who helped recruit Sylvan and other companies to Harbor East, said Beatty gets unfairly criticized for stealing companies away from downtown, but in fact, many of those companies would have moved to the suburbs or beyond. Baltimore's competition for headquarters and jobs, he said, is increasingly global and needs developments like Harbor Point, Struever said.

"If the city is interested in growing jobs, office workers are the biggest source these days," Struever said. "We have to grow places where decision-makers want to be in the city."

Mark Fetting, until last year the CEO of Legg Mason, one of the city's largest money management companies, said corporations are drawn to "spectacular buildings" such as the new New York Times building in Manhattan, where the company has offices.

Fetting said he was skeptical initially of moving from downtown but "quickly became a convert."

"When we were on Light Street, it's primarily a business location," he said. "When you walk outside, you mostly see other people going to or from work. In Harbor East, you see folks going in and out of stores and where they live and going to the movies."

It is that kind of lifestyle that Beatty loves to promote. He will proudly point to the overflowing bike racks outside the Morgan Stanley building, the one part of Harbor Point that has already been built, noting that 68 percent of the employees live in the city, 62 percent within a couple of miles of their workplace.

Beatty himself, though, lives in the suburbs — Ruxton, specifically, where his home is currently assessed at close to $1.5 million. He and his wife lived in Henderson's Wharf in Fells Point when they first moved here, then a home in Federal Hill. "And then we had dogs and then kids," he said, explaining the move to Ruxton.

But he can envision a time when the boys are grown, and he and Nathalie, who serves on the board of the new Baltimore Design School, move back downtown.

Regardless of where he lives, Beatty says, his developments and the city are inextricable, and he is committed to both. But there are limits to what one development can do, he said.

"There've been issues raised that have nothing to do with development," Beatty said of critics who contend that his projects have not fixed the city's persistently high unemployment. "We can't go out and solve the city's problems."

Still, he said, he is focused on making sure jobs and contracts go to local residents. He also sees Harbor East spurring more development and thus providing more opportunities to less prosperous neighborhoods to the north and east.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake said Beatty has addressed his critics and shown a willingness to work with them. Given that he also is involved in possible projects in other parts of the city, such as the transit-oriented redevelopment plan proposed for Penn Station, Rawlings-Blake envisions a growing role for Beatty in the city.

"He's a major player in the development of a major growth area in the city," she said. "And the Penn Station development has the potential to be transformative for that area.