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Mayor says he’s confident economic development agency is on track

In response to a board member’s question about whether the Baltimore Development Corp. has lost direction, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said Wednesday that he believes the city’s economic development agency is serving its purpose.

Young, during a regular news conference at City Hall, said he wants to see more development in city neighborhoods. But overall, he said, he’s happy with the agency’s performance.

“Their mission really hasn’t changed, except that I told them I want there to be more focus on community development in our city where they haven’t seen development in decades,” Young said, echoing a sentiment often espoused by former Mayor Catherine Pugh.

Young said he believes the city is starting to see results from the Baltimore Development Corp.’s efforts to lure investment to neighborhoods outside of downtown and the waterfront.

During the Baltimore Development Corp.’s board meeting last week, member Christy Wyskiel questioned whether the quasi-public agency had lost focus. Wyskiel, senior adviser to Johns Hopkins University’s president on innovation, commercialization and entrepreneurship, asked whether the development corporation’s mission was cultivating a better business climate or promoting real estate development.

“I’ve been on the board for five years and I’m still unsure,” Wyskiel said at the meeting.

Commercial real estate brokers and downtown property owners have complained bitterly for years about the lack of significant businesses moving into the city. They have often singled out the development corporation for criticism, saying its efforts to attract business have been lackluster.

Much of that concern stems from the city’s use of incentives to encourage new developments that include office space. Properties downtown struggle with high vacancies because there aren’t enough new tenants to fill the spaces left by businesses that have moved to new properties along the waterfront.

Nevertheless, Young insisted he’s happy with the development corporation’s efforts to retain businesses and to attract new businesses to Baltimore.

“That’s what they do full time,” he said.

Baltimore Development Corp. President and CEO Colin Tarbert, in response to Wyskiel’s question last week, said the agency’s purpose is to bring investment to Baltimore in the form of new buildings and businesses.

“We are the city’s economic development agency,” Tarbert said.

Tarbert told board members that he’s focused on finishing a five-year economic development plan by September 2020.

Tarbert previously worked at City Hall in economic development and business relations roles for Mayors Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Pugh before taking the top job at the development corporation last spring.

His move to the Baltimore Development Corp. came weeks before Pugh resigned as mayor amid an ethics scandal that resulted in the departure of several members of her administration, including Jim Smith, who had been chief of strategic alliances in the mayor’s office. Tarbert served as deputy chief of strategic alliances.

Tarbert assumed the job after previous BDC leader William H. Cole IV departed to join consulting firm Margrave Strategies. Cole, who joined the development corporation in 2014, formerly served on the Baltimore City Council.

Cole followed Brenda McKenzie, who ran the Baltimore Development Corp. from 2012 to August 2014. Before that, M.J. “Jay” Brodie led the organization for 16 years before he retired.

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