BUSINESS DIGEST

The Baltimore Sun

Aquarium's bond rating downgraded

The National Aquarium's bond rating was downgraded yesterday by Fitch Ratings. The new rating is BBB with a stable outlook, down from a BBB+ rating with a negative outlook assigned in 2007. Executive Director David Pittenger said he wasn't surprised by the downgrade given the instability of the financial markets, but he said he was pleased that the rating outlook was more positive than before. Bond ratings represent an opinion on an organization's ability to meet its financial obligations. A BBB rating is the lowest investment grade category offered by Fitch. The aquarium said it began making changes months ago to prepare for tough economic times. Those include cutting expenses, adding new features and exhibits to attract visitors, raising ticket prices while also expanding discounts, and increasing market research to remain a leader in aquatic conservation. The aquarium said these efforts may be paying off, with January attendance exceeding projections.

Eileen Ambrose

General Growth misses expectations

Struggling shopping mall owner General Growth Properties Inc., which operates several Baltimore-area shopping centers and is Columbia's master developer, said one-time gains helped push its fourth-quarter funds from operations up 14 percent year-over-year, but falling rents drove adjusted results below Wall Street expectations. Funds from operations increased to $222.2 million, or 70 cents a share, from $190.4 million, or 64 cents, a year earlier. But excluding one-time items, core FFO slipped to 72 cents per share from 92 cents in the prior-year period. Chicago-based General Growth said last year and again last night that it may be forced to seek bankruptcy protection if it cannot rework loans it has with banks.

Baltimore Sun news services

Monument market developers chosen

The Baltimore Development Corp. picked developers yesterday to revitalize a former East Baltimore landfill with an $18 million, 247,000-square-foot retail and office project to be called Monument Street Marketplace. Shopping center developer Black Oak Associates and McCrary Development, headed by former Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Michael McCrary, had bid in June to redevelop the 27-acre, city-owned former Monument Street Landfill on East Monument Street near Edison Highway. The developers propose 183,700 square feet of shops and 63,000 square feet of flex-office space in four buildings. The development is expected to create 400 jobs.

Lorraine Mirabella

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