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Waterfront sites get wired to plug into high-tech firms


Mayor Martin O'Malley will be host to a summit with Internet company owners and university officials today to explore how to attract high-tech companies, turning the Inner Harbor into a "Digital Harbor."

"In six months, when people think about the high-tech industry, we hope they'll think about Silicon Valley [near San Francisco], Silicon Alley [in Manhattan] and Baltimore's Digital Harbor," said the city's deputy mayor for economic development, Laurie Schwartz.

The meeting is one of several efforts the city is making this week to boost its first new major industry along the waterfront since the construction of Harborplace sparked tourism in the 1980s.

On Friday, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and other officials are scheduled to appear at a "grand opening" for a 16-month-old high-tech office complex called the Emerging Technology Center on Boston Street in Canton.

This afternoon, developer C. William Struever is giving reporters boat tours of Inner Harbor development sites, to which the city hopes to attract Internet companies.

The sites include Struever's Tide Point office complex under construction in Locust Point, Constellation Real Estate Group's proposed partnership with Struever on a 242,500-square-foot office and retail building along Thames Street in Fells Point and the Cordish Company's planned Power Plant Annex office building off Pratt Street on Pier Four.

The largest development site is 27-acre waterfront site on South Caroline Street in Fells Point that once held a chrome plant.

Struever and H & S Bakeries owner John Paterakis are negotiating with the New Jersey-based Honeywell Corp. over the possible construction of high-tech offices on the property, which Honeywell has owned since it merged with Allied Signal company last year.

"The discussions are ongoing," said Tom Crane, a spokesman for Honeywell. "It's a promising piece of a real estate and a real success story as a clean-up site."

O'Malley's administration "is interested in hearing what is proposed for the site, and identifying ways that the city can help with the development," said Schwartz.

"We are excited about the potential for development along that area of the harbor, and linking the Inner Harbor East with Fells Point and Canton," Schwartz said.

Officials expected at this morning's meeting at City Hall include William R. Brody, president of the Johns Hopkins University, Freeman A. Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and owners of Internet companies including Impreza, Sylvan Learning Systems and GR8.

O'Malley hopes to explore how the city could help stimulate Internet companies - perhaps by simplifying the development process for high-tech offices or forming partnerships with universities, according to city officials.

Penny Lewandowski, director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, said the city offers many advantages over the high-tech business hub of Northern Virginia, which is home to America Online and other companies.

"Companies can buy real estate here in Baltimore at much better rates than across the river in Northern Virginia. And the spaces here also have the 'coolness factor' going for them. They are great old buildings in urban areas where people can live near where they work," said Lewandowski.

Sean Carton, managing partner of a Web design company called Carton Donofrio Interactive, said the biggest obstacles the city will have to overcome in attracting more software designers is changing the city's image and creating a sense of community for high-tech employees.

"The city already has a good infrastructure for high-tech companies. But one of the most serious problems is attracting talent. Getting people to move to Baltimore is tough," said Carton. "A lot of people graduate from Johns Hopkins or the University of Maryland and move to New York or San Francisco."

"Baltimore has an image as a backwater industrial town," said Carton.

"The city actually has a great deal to offer. It has a long history and a funky feel to it. But the city should do more to promote neighborhoods beyond the Inner Harbor, such as Canton. And it should demonstrate more of a government commitment to high-tech, perhaps through more public-private partnerships."

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