City asks state's help on BRAC

The Baltimore Sun

Looking to attract a share of the defense workers expected to stream into Maryland in the next few years with the military base realignment, Baltimore officials urged the state yesterday to expand commuter rail service, upgrade a key highway gateway to the city and help with neighborhood revitalization.

Mayor Sheila Dixon presented the city's "BRACtion" plan to Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who chairs Maryland's base realignment subcabinet, during a meeting yesterday morning at City Hall. Brown and a contingent of city and state officials later toured parts of the city, including Baltimore Community College, a development on Clipper Park Road and a stretch of newly rehabbed rowhouses in East Baltimore.

While the share of new residents moving to Baltimore from soon-to-be closed military bases in Northern Virginia and New Jersey is projected to number only about 2,500 of the 28,000 projected households moving to Maryland in the next five years, Dixon has seized on the opportunity to jump-start much-needed upgrades to transportation and housing development infrastructure.

The city's BRAC plan calls for improvements to parts of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, expansion of MARC service to Harford County and construction of an East Baltimore line. It also proposed housing development near the MARC station in West Baltimore and in neighborhoods such as Uplands and Edmondson Village.

Whether much of the plans come to fruition will depend largely on the availability of federal and state funds. Maryland's congressional delegation has requested a little more than $20 million in federal money to pay for projects to ease the stress on roads, schools and services across the state to prepare for the arrival of an estimated 60,000 jobs, most of them around Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

"We'll be ready. We'll have the work force to fill these new jobs and the infrastructure - the schools, the parks, the libraries, the roads, the mass transit - to welcome our new neighbors," Brown said at yesterday's news conference. "In Baltimore, you have the available residential infrastructure and rejuvenated cultural assets - the Inner Harbor, the Hippodrome, Patterson Park, Camden Yards - to welcome new and future residents to this great city."

In 2005, The Defense Department ordered workers at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey and the Defense Information Systems Agency in Virginia, among others, to relocate to Maryland by 2011 as a part of a nationwide shuffle of military bases. The newcomers are expected to contribute nearly $500 million annually in state and local taxes, but they will have a significant impact on roads, schools and services.

The mayor said she did not think newcomers would be deterred by the city's struggling school system or its soaring homicide rate .

"Well, first of all, we're making great strides in our public schools. ... People are looking differently at our public schools, and it's really a matter of marketing them and getting the message out," Dixon said at the news conference.

"As it relates to crime, we're very focused in going after ... the most violent offenders, community engagement and partnership," she said.

"That's being strengthened every day, and we are really focused on that. And I think that people will see overall Baltimore is a safe city," the mayor said.

"Do we have issues?" the mayor added. "Yes, just like New York and other places. But it's a matter of getting a handle on it and letting the public know that Baltimore's still a great place to live and raise a family."

Anna Custer, executive director of LIVE Baltimore, a nonprofit city group, said her group has begun outreach to prospective residents and has hired a BRAC relocation manager to oversee the process.

"We were really excited that the lieutenant governor and the Cabinet secretaries got to come out and see the city beyond the Inner Harbor," Custer said. They'll say, 'Did you see how big that porch was? I didn't know that neighborhood existed.' It's all about those 'ah ha' moments that make the difference. When you have conversations with people, the lieutenant governor can say, I saw it with my own eyes, Baltimore City is definitely a possibility for BRAC folks."

Baltimore joins area counties in submitting plans and requests to the state for help dealing with base realignment. The subcabinet has until December to submit a comprehensive plan to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

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