As T. Rowe Price weighs whether to remain at its Pratt Street headquarters in the heart of Baltimore, the safety of its employees is a key concern, the company's CEO said Wednesday.
Employees of the Baltimore-based money manager have been harassed by groups of youths, and one of Price's vendors from New York was mugged outside his downtown hotel within the past two months, said CEO James A. C. Kennedy. Price contacted the city several weeks ago about its concerns.
"We told the mayor safety is a big issue," Kennedy said. "We want to make sure our people feel safe walking the streets of Baltimore."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she moved swiftly to address Price's concerns as soon as she learned about them.
"I'm not trying to downplay any of the concerns," the mayor said. "However, crime in downtown has declined dramatically over the years."
Most of the complaints the Baltimore Police Department received this year in the Inner Harbor area involve car break-ins, although police investigated about 50 common assaults and more than 20 robberies. In April, a 20-year-old Cheesecake Factory employee was fatally stabbed after leaving the Inner Harbor restaurant in the early morning.
Price, a fixture in downtown since its founding 76 years ago, said in April that it was exploring options for its headquarters, currently at 100 E. Pratt St. Its lease at that building, which towers over the Inner Harbor, expires in 2017.
Price is considering moving elsewhere in downtown or to Harbor East or Harbor Point. Price could also move to Owings Mills, where the money manager has a campus with a half-dozen office buildings and 2,687 employees.
Price is being wooed by Harbor Point developer Michael S. Beatty. Exelon, the parent of Baltimore Gas and Electric, plans to build a skyscraper on the redeveloped site of the former Allied Chromium plant south of Harbor East.
"Michael Beatty has been very impressive in what he presented to us for that site," Kennedy said.
But Price could also decide to stay put, renewing its lease for the downtown offices where 1,271 employees work. The building added guards and other security features about four years ago.
"Our preference is to stay downtown. This is our city," Kennedy said. "This is our home."
Price is not trying to wring any special concessions from the city while it weighs its options, Kennedy added.
Nevertheless, he said, the safety of employees will be a factor in where Price ultimately settles.
"We want them to feel secure when they walk to their cars and go to the subway, jump on buses or go to garages across the street," he said.
Kennedy said the company has been pleased by quick action from the mayor and the police to address safety issues.
"I'm just thrilled that the city has stepped up," he said.
Rawlings-Blake said as soon has she heard from Price, she convened a meeting that included the police commissioner, top commanders and upper management of the company.
"We increased the number of patrols and policy activity in the area," she said.
The city has 100 cameras being monitored in the area, she added.
The feedback from Price is that the company has noticed an improvement, the mayor said.
Rawlings-Blake said her office works closely with the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore to stay on top of issues concerning businesses, including matters of public safety or if the city is headed in the right direction.
Kirby Fowler, president of Downtown Partnership, said his organization also has responded to "a spike of incidents that occurred that had to be addressed recently" near Price's headquarters.
The Downtown Partnership, which promotes the area and tries to attract and retain businesses and residents, assigned one of its 40 hospitality guides to Price's block, Fowler said. Guides answer questions from tourists and residents, but can also report problems to the police.
The owner of Price's building also hired an off-duty police officer for the area, Fowler said.
According to the Partnership, the downtown area hosts 113,000 workers and is home to 40,000 residents.
Fowler said concerns about safety are raised sporadically by businesses when problems flare up.
"We have 5,000 businesses in the mile radius of Pratt and Light," Fowler added. "They would not be there if the daily experience was an unsafe one. "
Some workers and businesses agree.
Daryl Adams said his daily bus ride from his Cedonia home to his IT job at Price takes him through some of East Baltimore's roughest neighborhoods. Compared to that, he said, downtown seems pretty safe.
"By the time I'm downtown, I'm in an oasis," he joked.
Adams said he's seen a few people around Pratt and Calvert Streets be "accosted" but nothing especially worrisome. He added there are benefits to working downtown, like interesting people and activities.
"I haven't noticed anybody saying they want to work somewhere else," he said.
Andi Miller, a T. Rowe Price contractor, said she appreciated Kennedy's concern for his employees but said she was not too worried about her personal safety downtown.
"I feel pretty safe in the immediate downtown area," she said. "I haven't seen much of anything to make me feel otherwise."
Padmaja Patil, a contractor with Price, said she feels nervous walking to her car when she occasionally has to work late. She said she also witnessed two men fighting outside the building after the parade when the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl earlier this year.
"I myself don't feel comfortable," she said. "You see a crowd of people acting in a weird way, you get scared to pass by."
Diane Williams, who works in a law office in the Price building, said she tries to be vigilant about her safety everywhere she goes, and downtown is no different.
"That's the way the world is," said Williams, who said she's worked downtown for 30 years without any problems. "You need to be a bit proactive. I'm always cautious."
Other employers said they weren't too worried.
"We are committed to doing business in downtown Baltimore, and we support the efforts of law enforcement and groups like the Downtown Partnership to keep this area as safe as possible," Augie Chiasera, president of M&T; Bank's Greater Baltimore and Chesapeake regions, said in a statement.
Transamerica moved into offices at 100 Light St. once occupied by money manager Legg Mason Inc., which moved to new headquarters in Harbor East in 2009.
Greg Tucker, a senior vice president with Transamerica, said officials with the financial services giant met with the mayor last week and reiterated their commitment to downtown.
Tucker said the company is always concerned about the safety of its 600 workers, but he is unaware of any security issue that would cause Transamerica to reconsider that commitment.