Stores ready to woo U.S. agency workers


When the last of the more than 3,000 employees move into the new Health Care Financing Administration headquarters in Woodlawn this summer, officials say the agency that oversees Medicaid and Medicare benefits for 70 million Americans should run more smoothly.

Tony Cinquegrani only hopes he sells more pie.

The general manager of retail sales at a nearby Ms. Desserts store, Mr. Cinquegrani is one of a number of Woodlawn merchants counting on HCFA's new headquarters to boost sales.

"It can't do anything but help our business," said Mr. Cinquegrani. His store has begun to offer sandwiches, slices of pie and such specialties as its Great American Chocolate Cake to attract hungry HCFA workers.

Security Square Mall also is working to lure HCFA employees on lunch breaks by offering round-trip trolley rides for 50 cents from the headquarters to the mall each weekday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Although the mall has offered the trolley service to the nearby Social Security Administration headquarters during the Christmas shopping season, it did not stop at HCFA sites scattered throughout Woodlawn. "Chances are people were not being exposed to our services," said Lori Marler, marketing director at Security Square.

About 100 riders from both the Social Security Administration and the HCFA headquarters are taking advantage of the mall's new trolley service, and the number of riders seems to be growing, Ms. Marler said.

One of the happiest business owners in Woodlawn is Shawn Flannery, who owns the Chadwick Manor Shell station a block away from HCFA headquarters. Most of the HCFA employees will drive past his station going to and leaving work.

"It's starting to pick up," Mr. Flannery said. "I'm seeing some new people I hadn't seen before."

That is just the kind of good news county officials were hoping for when they fought to keep the HCFA headquarters in Woodlawn three years ago.

HCFA had been in Baltimore County since 1977, but when the government decided to merge the scattered offices into one headquarters, Baltimore City campaigned for the project.

County site chosen

The county promised to put up $1 million to help pay for site improvements on the 57.4-acre parcel at 7500 Security Blvd., and the federal General Services Administration, after much political tugging and hauling, chose the county site over the location proposed by the city just north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The headquarters, which is nearly complete, contains more than 1 million square feet of space and parking for 3,100 vehicles.

It includes state-of-the art communications equipment, a day care center, gymnasium, cafeteria, auditorium and even its own production studio.

Steven A. Pelovitz, associate administrator of operations and resource management, said some of the facilities will be made available to the public, including the auditorium.

County economic development officials figure that HCFA employees contribute $12.5 million to the local business economy each year and that HCFA's presence supports the existence of another 1,500 jobs in the vicinity.

If there are any losers, they are the landlords of the buildings HCFA is leaving. The agency leased 379,000 square feet of privately owned space and paid an annual rent of $7.4 million in the 1995 fiscal year.

"It hurts," said Robert Becker, vice president of leasing at MIE Properties, which rented a 32,000-square-foot building to HCFA on Rutherford Road.

But Mr. Becker and other landlords said the blow is eased because they have known for years that they would lose HCFA.

New tenants found

"We're not that distressed about it," said Nina Weissenberger, asset manager for Meadows Business Park, which leased more than 250,000 square feet of space to HCFA. She said her company knew about HCFA's impending departure last fall and has attracted new tenants.

She said 90 percent of the company's properties are now leased, and she doesn't expect the occupancy rate to dip below 75 percent after HCFA moves.

Besides leasing from the private sector, HCFA occupied two government-owned buildings that will be taken over by the Social Security Administration.

HCFA employees began moving into their new facility at the end of May. The move is expected to be complete next month.

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