Baltimore's success at luring the nation's oldest black fraternity from Chicago is being hailed as moving the city a step closer to its goal of becoming a hub for non-profit organizations in the country.
A beaming Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday formally announced that Alpha Phi Alpha, which claims more than 100,000 members nationwide, will be moving its headquarters from Chicago to Baltimore before August.
The fraternity, with a staff of about 14, will be moving into the Goucher House, an historic landmark in the 2300 block of St. Paul Street.
The move brings to five the number of non-profits that have moved to Baltimore since 1985.
The others are the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which moved in 1985 from New York City; Catholic Relief Services, which moved in 1988 from New York City; the American Center for International Leadership, which made its move in 1990 from Columbus, Ind.; and the International Book Bank, which moved this year from Chicago.
Baltimore Economic Development Corporation [BEDCO], credited with helping persuade Alpha Phi Alpha to make the move, has targeted non-profits for about five years as part of its marketing strategy to lure business to Baltimore.
Larry J. Smith, executive director of the Downtown Office Marketing Task Force, an arm of BEDCO, said the emphasis on non-profits benefits the city in ways that luring large corporations does not.
"The non-profits are dedicated more to the social and human-resource concerns than the for-profits are," Smith said. "They are a catalyst or nucleus around which the community can coalesce to enhance the quality of life."
In addition, the non-profits find Baltimore attractive because of its proximity to Washington and its relatively affordable real estate, Smith said. For some of the non-profits, such as Alpha Phi Alpha and the NAACP, moving to Baltimore has meant owning their own buildings for the first time.
The fraternity had leased its space in Chicago. Henry Ponder, who is president of Fisk University in Nashville as well as of Alpha Phi Alpha, said the fraternity completed the purchase of the Goucher House yesterday morning.
Ponder said Alpha Phi Alpha chose Baltimore after looking at such cities as Los Angeles, Seattle, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Washington.
He added that Baltimore was chosen in part because of its proximity to Washington, the nearby Baltimore/Washington International Airport and the neighborhood in which the new headquarters is located, which he described as a good one.
It was also clear that the city courted the fraternity with determination. David M. Gillece, president of BEDCO, said that the A.S. Abell Foundation of Baltimore has promised a grant to Alpha Phi Alpha to help facilitate its move.
Ponder said it will cost the fraternity about $100,000 to physically move its organization to Baltimore.
Gillece said the city has promised to provide employment training services to the fraternity through the city's Office of Employment Development. Officials said the group plans to hire additional staff.