Bally's jobs in Towson threatened


Bally's Health & Tennis Corp. is considering pulling 450 jobs from Baltimore County as part of a corporate consolidation, and is asking state and county economic development officials for financial incentives to keep the company there.

The action by the Chicago-based fitness club operator stems from its decision to shutter one of its regional operations centers in either Michigan or Maryland to cut costs. The move would add roughly 150 new jobs to the surviving operation. A decision is expected by the end of the month.

"We're very pleased with our Towson operation, and if we can work out the economics, we'll stay," said David M. Tolmie, Bally's vice president of planning and development. "But it's primarily an economic concern."

Keeping Bally's and its $13 million annual local payroll also is expected to serve as a further test to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's economic development platform focusing on business retention. That stance was recently symbolized by the state's successful effort to retain a McCormick & Co. Inc. distribution center in Maryland.

In that case, the state pledged $20 million last month in financial incentives to aid the spice maker in developing a 150-employee facility in Harford County over a competing offer from Pennsylvania.

Although Bally's said it has not yet calculated its financial needs, it is expected to request money for employee training, equipment financing and for employee relocation. The money would come from programs controlled by the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development (DEED), Mr. Tolmie said. The financial incentives could amount to millions of dollars, according to people familiar with Bally's plans.

They're looking for assistance, and we realize that it's a bottom-line business decision for them," said Audrey Theis, a DEED assistant secretary who met with Bally's officials last week. "We're now looking at various options and resources that we have, but the specifics haven't been finalized as yet."

"Bally's is very important to Baltimore County and the region," said Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, echoing county economic development officials. "They have a national reputation, and we're going to work very aggressively to persuade them to stay."

Initial meetings between the company and Michigan officials are scheduled for later this week.

Bally's Health & Tennis, a $600 million division of casino and hotel owner Bally Entertainment Corp., operates 340 fitness centers nationwide and four in the Baltimore area. The local operation began in Maryland in 1989 after the company purchased a majority interest in U.S. Health Corp. for $55 million.

The duties of the company's 450 workers in Towson include data entry, collections and information services, and a variety of other membership functions. Although some employees would be given the option to transfer from Michigan if Towson were selected, Mr. Tolmie said most of the 150 new jobs would be filled locally.

Bally's might also ask the state to help offset the cost of improving its office space, should it decide to relocate from its existing quarters in the Hampton Plaza Building at 300 E. Joppa Road in Towson.

As part of the relocation decision, Bally's also is contemplating moving from its 11-story building, where it is scattered among five floors.

Among the sites Bally's is considering are Citicorp's former credit card processing center at 7720 York Road and vacant office space at the Timonium Mall.

Mr. Tolmie said the proposed consolidation wasn't connected to Bally Entertainment's plans to spin the fitness center division off into a separately traded public company later this year.

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