Sylvan Learning Systems yesterday opened its international headquarters in Baltimore's Empowerment Zone, officially becoming the first major public corporation to move to the center city in two decades.
More than 200 visitors gathered inside the six-story building at 1000 Lancaster St. to tour Sylvan's corporate offices, now home for 300 employees who moved from Columbia.
The fast-growing tutoring and testing company, one of the nation's largest providers of educational services, plans to create 300 jobs over the next two years.
"Having Sylvan Learning Systems here is a powerful symbol that we are on our way," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who has worked to bring new jobs to Baltimore as part of the Empowerment Zone, a federally designated area where businesses receive economic incentives for relocating or expanding. "For a big-city mayor, it doesn't get any better than this."
Sylvan is the lead tenant of a $32 million office and apartment complex in the Inner Harbor East renewal area. Chief Executive Officer Doug Becker used the ribbon cutting ceremony to unveil the prototype for a new division of his company, a series of multimedia training facilities for adults called the Caliber Learning Network.
He also announced that Sylvan has acquired the Wall Street Institute, a Europe-based network of English-speaking schools.
"The idea that we can create a global enterprise around the idea of exporting knowledge, in an era when knowledge is the most valuable commodity -- it's a wonderful business to be in," he said.
Becker also thanked local businessman John Paterakis, who led the group that developed Sylvan's headquarters, and the public officials who helped make the project a reality.
"If it weren't for the fact that there was a place that met our physical needs, we wouldn't have been here," Becker said.
The Lancaster Street building is a joint venture of the Paterakis family of Baltimore and Evans Co. of McLean, Va. Beatty Harvey Fillat was the architect. Armada/Hoffler Construction Co. of Chesapeake, Va., was the general contractor. Design Collective was the designer for Sylvan's interior space.
Still under construction and due to open this spring on the same block is a 113-unit apartment tower called The Promenade.
Sylvan serves more than 10,000 students through contracts with public school districts and provides computer-based testing for academic admissions, professional licensing and certification.
Sylvan's move makes Baltimore the home for its worldwide work force of 2,450.
It also makes Sylvan one of the first major companies in the United States to relocate to a federal empowerment zone.
Becker, 31, said he was attracted by the vitality of the city and the chance for Sylvan to take a leadership role in bringing businesses back downtown.
"Many companies have written off cities as viable places to conduct business," he said. "That's a big mistake. I believe businesses should be in cities. Only in the city do you have access to first-rate amenities, culture and the heart of commerce."
Becker said he especially liked being able to walk outside at lunchtime and smell bread baking nearby at the H & S Bakery, owned by John Paterakis.
"You just can't put a price on that -- although John tried," he quipped. "Just kidding."
Rhoda Glickman, liaison between the White House and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, praised Sylvan for setting an example others can follow around the country. She said the Clinton administration has sought to revitalize cities through the Empowerment Zone program and other initiatives -- and is pleased to see signs of progress.
Sylvan's move shows "you can turn your city around through the [Empowerment Zone] program," Glickman said. "Keep it up, Baltimore. Keep sending us examples of inner-city successes."
Pub Date: 2/19/97