Alex. Brown Inc., Baltimore's venerable investment banking house, has begun exploring possible sites for a new headquarters -- and it has not ruled out leaving downtown.
Chief Executive Officer Alvin B. "Buzzy" Krongard acknowledged yesterday that the company is considering a variety of options.
"Our major leases expire in downtown Baltimore in March of 1997," he said.
"Between now and then, we're looking at any and all alternatives . . . You name it, and we're thinking about it."
Mr. Krongard said that while Alex. Brown is not confining its search to Baltimore, it does not intend to move out of Maryland. Nor is it likely to put up a new building, given the amount of vacant office space that exists.
Based in Baltimore since its founding in 1800, the highly regarded investment bank long ago outgrew its symbolic headquarters in the two-story Alexander Brown & Sons Building at 135 E. Baltimore St.
Moreover, the 94-year-old landmark, which survived the Great Fire of 1904, is owned by descendants of the company's founder, not the company itself.
It has 2,200 employees in 22 offices nationwide, including 800 employees scattered among various buildings in downtown Baltimore and 400 in Baltimore County.
Company officials said in January that business is so strong they expect to add 200 bankers, traders and sales representatives this year, many of them earning upward of $100,000 a year.
Honora Freeman, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., said the Schmoke administration is working to keep the company in the city. "Alex. Brown is part of our history," she said.
Ms. Freeman said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is scheduled to meet with top Alex. Brown officials this month to discuss their plans. "They're working with us," she said. "We're prepared to show them a wide range of options."
Unlike Legg Mason Inc. and T. Rowe Price Associates, two other large financial services companies with their own towers in the Inner Harbor, Alex. Brown does not have a strong presence on the city's skyline.
While it maintains a presence in the old Alexander Brown & Sons Building, the bulk of its downtown employees occupy leased space across Baltimore Street in the Bank of Baltimore Building.
But some also work in the Signet Tower at Baltimore and St. Paul streets and the Equitable Building at Calvert and Fayette streets.
Affiliates of Alex. Brown, such as Alex. Brown Realty and Brown Asset Management, occupy portions of Redwood Center on Redwood Street, the B&O; Building on Charles Street, and Furness House on South Street.
Alex. Brown also has 350 employees in "back office" space at the Atrium Building in Timonium and smaller offices in Towson and Annapolis.
Mr. Krongard said not all of the employees would be involved in the consolidation because the building leases don't all expire at the same time.
He declined to say how much space Alex. Brown is seeking or how many employees would be affected by any move.
"As we used to say in the Marine Corps, that depends on the terrain and the situation."
Any consolidation presumably would represent one of the biggest leases or sales transactions in the area.
Observers of the local real estate market say the company would be an ideal anchor tenant for a virgin development parcel such as the Inner Harbor East renewal area, or it could help fill vacant space in a tower such as Commerce Place.
Mr. Krongard said he has no specific time frame for making decisions and would be open to whatever financial assistance the city could provide.
"Anything would help," he said.
One site that Alex. Brown officials have toured is the Pier 4 Power Plant, a city-owned building that has been awarded to a development team, which is planning a $35 million entertainment complex called Sports Center USA.
Mr. Krongard and Mayo Shattuck III, Alex. Brown president and chief operating officer, toured the building within the past month with Willard Hackerman, head of the Whiting-Turner Contracting of East Towson.
The tour was arranged by the Baltimore Development Corp. even though the Sports Center USA group has an exclusive negotiating agreement with the city.
Lynda O'Dea, head of Sports Center USA, said her agreement with the city gives the group until the end of July to obtain funding and to negotiate a long-term lease. She said she is optimistic that she will be able to meet that deadline and proceed with the project.
Ms. O'Dea said she is not concerned that the city agency allowed another group to tour the building. But she said her project is designed to occupy the entire Power Plant and would not leave room for Alex. Brown.
She added that she believes a sports museum would do more than an office building to support the city's goals of creating jobs and attracting tourists.
"It would be unfathomable to me that the city was considering that use for the Inner Harbor," she said, referring to the Alex. Brown project.
"The city knows that we are very close to obtaining our funding . . . This is a critical property for the future development of the Inner Harbor, and I can't think of any other project that would offer more benefits than ours," she said.
Ms. Freeman, the development corporation head, said her office is not offering to show the Power Plant to others. "But if others show an interest, we try to accommodate them."
The tour with Mr. Hackerman and the Alex. Brown executives does not mean the Schmoke administration has given up on the Sports Center, Ms. Freeman added. "We're very confident that the Sports Center is moving forward," she said.
Mr. Krongard said he is aware of the Sports Center project and does not want to interfere with it. But he pointed out that Ms. O'Dea's negotiating agreement has been extended at least once already.
"It's not our habit to get into other people's deals," he said. "On the other hand, if it doesn't move ahead, we may very well be interested in looking at the Power Plant, or anything else that conforms to our desires and interests."