City Hall forms task force to study business climate


After years of being rapped by businesses as unresponsive, the Schmoke administration has appointed a 40-member task force to study how the city can improve its business climate and how best to lobby the next presidential administration about urban policy.

Although the panel's job will be largely to rally support for new policies, the formation of the task force, called the Development Incentives Task Force, came Tuesday without any formal announcement from the mayor's office.

"The mayor's interest is in the results of this process," said Honora M. Freeman, president of Baltimore Development Corp., a public-private corporation that guides downtown development on the city's behalf.

Asked whether the low-key nature of the task force's formation reflected the mayor's strategy in building support for the group's goals, Ms. Freeman replied, "perhaps a different style. Let's look at the results that will come of this effort."

An aide to Ms. Freeman invited a reporter to the first meeting via voice mail 30 minutes before it began. No members of the media -- and apparently few members of the public -- attended.

Ms. Freeman said the task force's job is to seek ways to implement recommendations of theoretical studies conducted previously by groups, including the Greater Baltimore Committee, which has endorsed a "vision" of promoting Baltimore as a hub of life sciences businesses, and a mayoral commission that proposed a far-reaching "downtown strategy" last year.

The task force, chaired by real estate developer Bill Struever, includes members from private businesses, state government and non-profit foundations. It is expected to break into smaller groups to study particular issues.

Ms. Freeman said the task force's top priorities would be to recommend "a comprehensive range of development incentives," study ways to retain and attract businesses in the city, evaluate incentives that other cities have used to improve their business climate and create what Ms. Freeman called "practical, implementable plans" that include "responsible risk taking."

"It's a pretty big smorgasbord of issues," said Richard Alterpresident of Manekin Corp., a real estate development and brokerage firm, who is a member of the task force.

Thomas N. Marudas, vice president of HarborView Properties Development Co., and a member of the panel, said the task force wants to move quickly to come up with recommendations, partly because a new presidential term is coming. "Once the election is held, the transition teams go into action," he said.

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