AN IDEA TO allow Downtown Partnership of Baltimore to incur long-term debt that theoretically could exceed the life of that organization understandably raised a number of fears. No one disagreed with the intent: to pay for street improvements, landscaping and new signs that will make the rest of downtown as attractive as the Inner Harbor. But there was the question of who would really be responsible for the debt.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was afraid the partnership of businesses wanted to sell bonds, which could affect the city's superior bond rating. The partnership said it didn't want to sell bonds, but fear remained that the city would end up paying off bank loans if the partnership ever ceases to exist. After all, the five-year law creating the downtown management authority expires in 1997, although it is virtually assured of being extended another five years.
The partnership believes it has found the answer. It doesn't plan to go out of existence, but if it does, members of the partnership would be committed to continue paying that portion of their special benefits district assessment that would go to retire any remaining debt. Furthermore, the partnership is looking for a foundation or foundations that would guarantee paying off any loan if the collected assessments aren't enough to do that. Those two steps should keep the city off the hook in repaying any debt incurred by Downtown Partnership.
But that doesn't absolve the city of its responsibility to help pay for the type of long overdue streetscape improvements that Downtown Partnership wants to make happen. Baltimore is in the midst of a tough fight to keep businesses from moving to suburban locations they consider more convenient and attractive. As downtown building rents decrease and more parking is made available, the city must also work harder to improve downtown's appearance. The Department of Public Works can't take a back seat on this important endeavor.
Pub Date: 12/05/96