City task force's big job keeps getting...


City task force's big job keeps getting bigger

Remember how the city was going to set up a task force to figure out how to convert old Class B office buildings into downtown housing? Well, the job just seems to be getting bigger and bigger.

By the time the task force was announced two weeks ago, its mission had been radically broadened. It was dubbed the Downtown Incentives Task Force, and its mission spanned everything from keeping business in the city to proposing urban policies for the next president. The Class B offices were just part of the mix.

Even that broader task will be broadened. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the name has been changed to the Economic Incentives Task Force, with a mission that now stretches citywide rather than just downtown, and could cover all industries rather than just the usual suspects, like life sciences and commercial real estate.

"The name may become something else before too long again," task force chairman Bill Struever said. " 'Mayor's Task Force on Economic Development' is the most likely, because it's not going to deal just with incentives, but also with barriers [to doing business with the city]."

Then there are political goals -- such as showing the mayor's commitment to economic development -- that Mr. Struever concedes are part of the group's raison d'etre.

"There's been this unfair rap that the mayor doesn't care about business and economic development," said Mr. Struever, a real estate developer.

The political dimension, as well as the breadth of the task force's charter, has some members of the 40-person task force privately wondering whether the group is for real.

One prominent member of the task force speculated that the mayor is trying to build a resume to be Bill Clinton's housing secretary if the Democrat is elected.

"Absolutely not," said the mayor, who heard this sort of buzz locally when Mr. Clinton was looking for a running mate. "That's as crazy as the vice president rumor."

Eyebrows are raised as rates don't fall

When new owners bought the Redwood Tower downtown, they said they planned to compete aggressively on price, and it stood to reason. When you've paid $10.5 million for a building rTC that once had a $34 million mortgage, you have some flexibility.

But one broker downtown said it ain't necessarily so. The broker has seen proposals for two possible tenants from Redwood Tower's new team, and cheap they aren't.

One was for space vacated by Shearson Lehman Bros., for which the new owners asked $16.60 a square foot. Considering that tenant improvements had been paid for by the former owners, that wasn't much of a deal, the broker said.

(For example, the building's biggest tenant, the Maryland state government, renewed at $15.59 a square foot before the building sold.)

"Someone else was offered $19.50 a square foot," the broker said. "I think [downtown] brokers assumed they [the new owners] had an advantage here and that they would be very aggressive. It doesn't appear that this is going to be their strategy."

Brokers have seen pricing as the best way for the new owners to leapfrog over more prominent buildings in the fight to fill the 25 percent of the building that's vacant.

Several calls to the building's management office went unanswered.

Top secret: Mum's the word on NSA move

One thing the suburban south real estate market wanted to know when the Army Corps of Engineers signed a 240,000-square-foot lease for virtually all of the tower at KMS Group Inc.'s National Business Park near Fort Meade: Who's going to lose all that space and have to hustle for new tenants?

The answer from the corps: We may know, but we're not telling you.

It seems that the space isn't really for the Corps of Engineers at all. It was just the real estate agent for the National Security Agency, according to corps spokesman Harold Clingerman.

And, although everyone gets to know where the NSA is going, the corps won't say which NSA operations are affected or where those operations are now.

American Credit may move to suburbs

As if the downtown real estate market -- or any other -- needs more to worry about, a good-sized tenant is considering moving to Baltimore County.

American Credit Indemnity Co., now at 300 St. Paul Place, is looking at "about a dozen" locations in the city and the suburbs, said Joe Ecker, a spokesman for Dun & Bradstreet Information Services of North America, American Credit Indemnity's parent.

Mr. Ecker won't give odds on whether the company will move out of town. It's looking at about a dozen buildings.

He said American Credit Indemnity wants to sign a lease on a new home around December and move in mid-1993.

The city has had a mixed year in its continuing battle with the suburbs for office tenants. AT&T; moved some operations to Anne Arundel County, but Maryland National Mortgage is scheduled to move people from Towson to downtown. Amoco Corp. moved some people to Towson, but the company owns a piece of the building it moved to.

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