Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Baltimore Development Corp. President Brodie retiring

The next head of the Baltimore Development Corp. will have to move the city’s economic base forward amid challenges that include fiscal, social and image problems that have plagued Baltimore for decades.

M.J. “Jay” Brodie

In the wake of Friday’s announcement that he will retire in the upcoming months, BDC President M.J. “Jay” Brodie said the city as a whole will be on display as candidates for his replacement vie for the top economic development job.

A search for his successor will begin immediately, and Brodie is expected to continue in an advisory role after that, city officials said.

Issues such as education, public safety and cleanliness are key to attracting businesses to move to Baltimore, he said, revealing that a “major prospect” with potentially 600 jobs was considering locating in Baltimore, but recently asked about the city’s image.

“They are not from the region,” Brodie said, declining to name the company. “I have spent a lot of time with them. What they asked me particularly is they’ve all seen ‘The Wire’ and ‘Homicide: Life on the Streets’ and they said: ‘Would I send my grandchildren to Baltimore public schools? Would I let them go downtown by themselves on a bus or light rail?’

“I told them yes, but it’s that kind of stuff that is on people’s minds.

“We need to continue to work on them — people feeling safe, looking at clean streets, wondering if public schools are a good choice for their children. Those are critical underpinnings for economic development.”

Brodie’s retirement comes at a time when several large developments in the city are in flux: the Superblock development on the West Side is stalled in its design and financing phase; the redevelopment of State Center is the focus of a bitter lawsuit in Baltimore City Circuit Court; and a plan to develop an office tower for Exelon Corp. in Harbor Point is the subject of much debate over two sets of public incentives for the developer, Harbor East Development LLC.

The BDC is a nonprofit formed in 1991 that oversees loans, grants, tax increment financing incentives and payments in lieu of taxes among other programs to help spur development in the city.

Brodie, 75, an architect and former city housing commissioner, said his retirement came after months of consideration. Asked whether Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had sought his resignation, he declined to specifically answer.

“That’s all past history — we had a congenial conversation,” Brodie said of a meeting concerning his status with Rawlings-Blake last week at City Hall.

In a statement, the mayor said Brodie had successfully served the BDC for 16 years.

“Jay has been a true champion for Baltimore’s businesses — both large and small — and has left a permanent, positive legacy as a major contributor to our city’s ongoing renaissance,” the statement said.

“From the shores of our harbor and downtown, to our neighborhood main streets, there are countless examples of contributions that Jay has made to improve Baltimore. Jay pursued his work with the utmost integrity and worked hard every day to make Baltimore a great place to live and work.”

When Rawlings-Blake became mayor in February 2010, she appointed a transition team to study issues facing the city. One issue addressed was economic development. In a March 2010 report issued to the mayor, the transition team recommended changes to the city’s economic development approach.

“No single cohesive plan or economic development strategy exists that is woven through the various departments that have a role in economic development,” the report said. “Such a plan should take into account how the business climate in the local community supports business development … current structure [or lack of structure] has resulted in a lack of coordination and too many ‘silos.’”

The report recommended that Rawlings-Blake reshape the BDC and create a cabinet on economic development, which has not been heeded to date. The mayor, the transition team said, should be the city’s top economic development “chief advocate,” it said.

Brodie said Friday he disputed the report’s findings that the BDC lacked vision.

“It’s not that simple — we’re not a little town,” he said. “We’re a complicated set of economic bases and visions of the future, so one shouldn’t simplify the Baltimore plusses and one shouldn’t ignore the Baltimore challenges.”

Brodie did agree with the report’s finding that Rawlings-Blake’s role should be to help attract businesses to Baltimore. That job is often difficult, he said, because of the city’s high tax structure, and other issues such as traffic.

“The city can only have one cheerleader, and [the mayor] is it,” Brodie said. “She needs to be putting out a positive future message that Baltimore is going to continue getting better. But is it easy? No. Is it an easy marketing thing? It’s not.”

Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, co-chaired the economic development portion of the transition team. He said Friday the BDC’s future course is solid, but Brodie’s retirement offers opportunity for change.

“To some extent this provides an opportunity to look at the structure to see if it’s the best structure conducive to economic development in a large jurisdiction — and this is something the mayor will contemplate,” Fry said.

“Overall, the city and its various agencies should be making sure that permit processes are expedited as quickly as possible and making sure businesses are treated from a strong customer service perspective and culture, one that’s seen as being appreciative of businesses wanting to locate and expand in Baltimore.”