Friday, August 3, 2007

BALTIMORE — As thousands of new workers prepare to descend on Maryland, city and state officials see a partial solution to the traffic snarls, crowded schools, and strained infrastructure the influx is expected to cause: entice the newcomers to settle in Baltimore.

Within commuting distance of the two military bases gaining the most jobs, with easy access to mass transit, and with room to grow, the city is the ideal place to absorb growth from the military’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan, officials say.

But while Maryland is expected to gain about 28,000 households from BRAC by 2011, only about 2,500 of them are projected to settle in Baltimore. Most are expected to settle around Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, where the jobs are concentrated.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who heads the state’s effort to plan for the 60,000 jobs BRAC is expected to bring to the state, and Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon are attempting to funnel more of those households into the city.

Both downplay suggestions that Baltimore’s rising homicide rate and troubled public schools might deter potential residents.

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, would like to see “as many as possible” settle in Baltimore, he said Wednesday as he toured some of the city’s revitalized neighborhoods in an effort to showcase the “liveability” of the city.

“This city has the ability to absorb the BRAC-related growth,” he said during a tour of an environmentally-friendly new town house in the Patterson Park neighborhood of East Baltimore. “Things we face as challenges [elsewhere] you’ve already got here. A lot of work is going into revitalizing the city.”

Mr. Brown several times over months of BRAC meetings has touted Baltimore as having the infrastructure needed to support the projected growth. Wednesday’s tour, which highlighted areas of town where mixed-use development is turning worn-out neighborhoods into more desirable and often transit-oriented ones was an attempt to show that.

Before the tour, Mrs. Dixon, a Democrat, presented Mr. Brown with her BRAC preparation plan for the city, which includes plans to revitalize neighborhoods and marketing the area to BRAC employees.

She suggested misgivings about the city may not be completely accurate and should not discourage potential residents.

“We’re making great strides in our public schools,” Mrs. Dixon said. “People are looking differently at our public schools and it’s really a matter of marketing them and getting that message out. … I think people will see overall Baltimore is a safe city. Do we have issues? 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 is still a great place to live and raise a family.”

Officials have hired independent non-profit Live Baltimore to market the city to BRAC transplants.

Anna Custer, executive director of Live Baltimore, said the company has visited Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, where most jobs are moving to Aberdeen Proving Ground, and has contacted defense contractors. Civilian jobs make up the bulk of BRAC jobs coming to Maryland.

Problems such as the rising rate of homicides have to be viewed in context, she said. The violent crime in Baltimore is not pervasive throughout the city but is mostly in “confined areas” and related to drugs and gangs, she said she tells potential residents.

Many of the workers preparing to move to Maryland have reacted positively to Live Baltimore’s message, she said.

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