Property owners in downtown Baltimore, concerned about crime and delayed maintenance, plan to add their voices — and possibly their resources — to improving the downtown area as it experiences an influx of residents and office workers.
The new group, called the Center City Coalition, is working with established business organizations and city officials to focus on making the central business district safer by adding security and pushing for upkeep of sidewalks, tree wells and lights.
“The genesis of the initiative stems from various owners and stakeholders in the CBD, who have invested millions of dollars of capital to be a part of the CBD renaissance, wanting to have a forum in which to ensure that the collective concerns regarding street safety, security and cleanliness are being met,” said Jeff Clary, a principal at Grander Capital Partners, who founded the group.
He said the group is working with the Downtown Partnership and the area’s city councilman and forming a shared plan. He and other members say that plan could include increasing patrols by city or state police or forming its own security force like one proposed by Johns Hopkins University to bolster the police presence.
Members also will likely push municipal agencies to keep the area clean and well lit, and maybe spend more of their own money.
Another founding coalition member said commercial real estate is doing well in the city, with the development of a host of new apartment and commercial buildings. Terri Harrington, a senior vice president with MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services, contrasted the central business district to nearby sub-markets such as South Baltimore and Harbor Point.
“The goal here is to make the CBD a market that is just as competitive,” said Harrington, who also sits on the Downtown Partnership board along with Clary.
She said all the stakeholders downtown — including businesses, nonprofits and residents — are “trying to get on the same page to collaborate on ideas and resources.”
Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, said his group can’t be a lone voice pushing for assistance. Groups of people who live and work downtown, including in premier new addresses such as One Light Street, can draw more attention to their specific priorities, though many of their goals are the same as the partnership’s.
He said a main issue for everyone downtown has been robberies, specifically those targeting people’s cellphones. Police data show in the past year there have been 152 reported street robberies downtown.
“We’ve been concerned over the past several months and trying to see how we can drive more city dollars to the core of downtown,” Fowler said. “There are concerns about safety and the appearance of downtown.”
The Downtown Partnership already increased its security spending in 2017 by more than 60 percent and now allocates about half of its $4 million or so annual budget to security. But Fowler said the group can’t maintain that spending, raised from some of the same property owners in the coalition.
He wants more public resources, including more city police foot patrols, more state transportation police at bus and Metro stops, and federal security surrounding federal offices and the courthouse.
“It would be helpful to have additional voices” calling for officers or funding, Fowler said. “We need to ensure the progress keeps going. The property owners can make a strong case.”
Neither city police nor Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office responded to requests for comment about crime downtown or the new group, first reported by the Baltimore Business Journal.
For their part, some city agencies said they are focusing on downtown. The city’s public works department, for example, said downtown gets street sweeping seven days a week, more than other neighborhoods. The department also rolled out “smart cans” that notify officials when they are full, said Jeffrey Raymond, a department spokesman.
“To the extent there is more to be done, we recognize that,” he said. “And we recognize that’s the case in pretty much every neighborhood.”
Officials from Maryland Department of Transportation’s Maryland Transit Administration, which has its own police force, also said they’ve dedicated resources downtown.
“MDOT MTA maintains a high presence of officers on foot, on trains and in patrol cars throughout downtown Baltimore and works in conjunction with other local law enforcement agencies,” said Veronica Battisti, a spokeswoman for the agency.
German Vigil, spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation, also said the agency would work with the group on their priorities, which could include adding street lights.
Courtenay Jenkins, executive director for Cushman & Wakefield in Baltimore and another coalition founding member, said the push is a response from tenants concerned for their workers’ safety. The focus began on the blocks between Calvert, Lombard, Fayette and Charles in the city core, but boundaries are expected to expand.
He said he’s heard of robberies, occasional assaults and even a mugging by someone on a scooter. A specific plan to address them is coming soon, he said.
“It’s not a 9-to-5 problem anymore, it’s also a 5-to-9 problem,” he said. “I’m a glass-is-half-full person, but when I hear so much from clients, I have to move.”