City woos firms led by women, minority owners


Principals of nearly 400 minority- and women-owned businesses crowded into City Hall last night, at the invitation of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, to learn how they can get a share of the work that will be generated by the $350 million Inner Harbor East development downtown.

In two separate half-hour briefings, Mr. Schmoke said that the developers of the project, Gilbane Properties of Providence, R.I., and Baltimore businessman John Paterakis, were among the first in Baltimore to agree in writing to adhere to city standards for hiring minority- and women-owned businesses -- even on portions of the project that are privately funded.

And the mayor wants the minority and women-owned contractors, designers, vendors and others to be in a position to take advantage of that commitment.

Inner Harbor East, Mr. Schmoke said, "marks a significant development in the history of our city" because it will result not only in a new neighborhood for the city but a new way of giving minority and women-owned businesses a chance to help shape it.

"We can't promise something to each and every one of you. But we sure are opening up the door of opportunity to a project which I think is very significant to all of us," he said. "This is an important event in the economic development life of this city."

For city projects, officials aim to award at least 20 percent of all construction and design work to minority-owned businesses and 3 percent of all work to women-owned businesses. For a $350 million project, that would mean that at least $70 million worth of the project would go to minority businesses and $10.5 percent would go to businesses owned by women.

Planned for a 20-acre parcel south of Fleet Street and east of the Lower Jones Falls, the Inner Harbor East project will contain a mixture of shops, offices and housing, a hotel and a marina. Construction will start this spring and proceed over the next eight to 10 years.

City officials provided few specifics about the work to be awarded, saying that much of it will depend on the pace of individual projects and that construction will be "market driven."

But they said the city will be setting up an office that will serve as a clearinghouse of information for minority- or women-owned contractors seeking work. For now, they said, prospective bidders can learn more by contacting Gilbane in Providence at 401-456-5800 or Lola Smith at the city's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 396-4355.

"The mayor is sending a signal that he would like this to become a model for projects in the future," said David Gillece, president of the Baltimore Economic Development Corp. "The message is very clear."

So far, the only contract awarded for the Inner Harbor East development site is a $2.6 million contract for bulkheading work. It was awarded in February to McLean Construction Co., which is not minority-owned, and work is expected to begin in about two weeks.

City officials say they will be awarding another $15.5 worth of public contracts over the next year or so through normal city bidding processes, including roadwork and utility relocation, a waterfront promenade, marina and marina office. Once the infrastructure is in place, the property will be ready for private development.

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