M.J. "Jay" Brodie, who has headed Baltimore's economic development agency under four mayors and helped shepherd projects such as the Harbor East redevelopment, said Thursday he plans to retire.
The Baltimore native and former city housing commissioner is credited with overseeing initiatives to create thousands of jobs and to attract and keep hundreds of businesses in the city during his 16 years as president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public economic development arm.
Brodie, viewed as highly influential in city development, also has drawn criticism from residents and business owners who have complained about being pushed out by urban renewal and about the secrecy under which they say his agency has operated.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake praised Brodie, 75, on Thursday for his "countless" contributions to the city. The mayor also announced plans to launch a professional search for a replacement.
Brodie said he would stay on as BDC president until a replacement is hired. After that, he said, he would become an adviser to the Mayor's Office of Economic and Neighborhood Development if an employment contract is approved.
"Jay has been a true champion for Baltimore's businesses — both large and small — and has left a permanent, positive legacy as a major contributor to our city's ongoing renaissance," Rawlings-Blake, who has worked with Brodie since her days on the City Council, said in a statement. "Jay pursued his work with the utmost integrity and worked hard every day to make Baltimore a great place to live and work."
In an interview, Brodie, who started at the BDC in 1996 under then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, called his job at the agency the most rewarding of his life.
His work on city development efforts stretches back decades. He led the city's housing department, first as deputy commissioner and then as commissioner, from 1969 to 1984, and worked on efforts to reinvent the Inner Harbor.
During Brodie's tenure as president, the BDC's programs retained or attracted 58,725 jobs in 993 businesses, bringing in a capital investment of $3.2 billion, city officials said.
The agency under his leadership worked with private developers and investors on dozens of projects, including the opening of 20 neighborhood grocery stores and the redevelopment of Mondawmin Mall, Clipper Mill and the Belvedere Square market. He also helped bring the national Main Streets program to Baltimore and expanded Baltimore's Emerging Technology Center program.
Over the years, the BDC's projects and strategies have also sparked opposition and lawsuits. Critics complained that too many decisions were made behind closed doors, leading to a lawsuit that eventually prompted the BDC to open its board meetings. Backed by the city, the agency has helped push through big property tax breaks for developers and used eminent domain to acquire property from residents and business owners.
Brodie said he believed Baltimore would likely always require some tax incentives to remain competitive, in part because developers have to pay higher costs for property taxes and construction of parking garages.
Brodie said he was proud of helping neighborhood merchants thrive through the Main Streets programs — and, on the other end of the size spectrum, of attracting Morgan Stanley and its hundreds of jobs to Harbor East.
He also said had strived to make the BDC more open and responsive to businesses.
"Baltimore is a challenging place to do big projects," Brodie said. "People are reticent. People were reticent about Charles Center. People were reticent about the Inner Harbor. They were reticent about Harbor East."
Despite this hesitancy, he said, "we've accomplished as much or more than I would have guessed if you had asked me way back when."
Why was he retiring? "As my wife would have said, 'You're not 20 anymore,'" he said.
Brodie and his wife, Georgene "Genie" Brodie, who died in 2002, developed a passion for ice skating — an activity he still enjoys and plans to do more of once he retires. He said he also looks forward to spending more time with his four grandchildren.
He is also known for a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the city. During days spent traveling from meeting to meeting, Brodie usually toted an armful of newspapers, documents and files.
"He's a walking history of the city. He knows the background, he knows what's going on, and he knows what's about to happen," said Ann Lansinger, president of the Emerging Technology Center, an incubator for startup technology companies, who has worked with Brodie since 1999.
Brodie has also helped foster downtown's evolution from a purely commercial district to a livable neighborhood with places to shop and live as well as work, said J. Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.
"For decades, Jay has been a stalwart champion for downtown," Fowler said. "Every project in the city at one point or another goes through [the] BDC, and he's been supportive of moving development forward in every case."
Among Brodie's greatest gifts are his depth of understanding of real estate development, a passion for the city and a "gentlemanly style" combined with a tenacious approach to getting projects done, Fowler said.
Brodie has long been on the short list of mayoral Cabinet leaders likely to leave, both because of his age and concerns about the Baltimore Development Corp.
Rawlings-Blake's economic development transition committee, led by the Greater Baltimore Committee's president and CEO, Donald C. Fry, has said the BDC should focus more on strategy, boost efforts to educate the public about outreach, and increase its transparency.