Blunt talk from Boston about new BDC chief
Above: Mayor Rawlings-Blake with her choice to head the BDC, Brenda McKenzie.
The Boston economic development official that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake named yesterday to head the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) was a minor player in a secretive agency where the real power was held by the mayor.
So said a reporter for the Boston Business Journal, speaking today on Sheilah Kast’s Maryland Morning about Brenda McKenzie, the economic development director for the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and now the mayor’s appointee to take charge of the public-private agency that steers development in Baltimore.
“Lower Echelon of Power”
“Her primary job was to vet development projects that came before the city to make sure they meet zoning requirements, but I think what she did mostly was to try to fill vacant retail space,” said Thomas Grillo, the Business Journal’s real estate editor.
Grillo, who spoke by phone, was a guest on the WYPR morning show, along with The Brew’s Mark Reutter, who covers the BDC and wrote about the McKenzie appointment. (The Brew’s piece today notes that business leaders, including lawyers for the city’s most controversial development projects, served on a panel that Rawlings-Blake formed to help fill the powerful position. No community or neighborhood leaders were on the panel, which met in private.)
Kast included excerpts from McKenzie’s remarks at a City Hall news conference yesterday.
“It’s a great opportunity to expand and grow the city by focusing on the whole: the strong neighborhoods, the businesses, downtown, and how all of those working together can bolster the overall economy,” the 45-year-old McKenzie said.
Grillo told Kast that BRA, like its Baltimore counterpart, engineers TIFs and other tax breaks that are “very controversial.” He mentioned two examples: $11.5 million for the State Street Corporation and $24 million for Liberty Mutual.
“Would those have been deals that Brenda McKenzie would have put together?” Kast asked.
“I don’t think so,” Grillo said. “I think she’s much on the lower echelon of the power over there.”
“Would Laugh At That”
Kast also included the answer McKenzie gave to a question about the criticism the BDC faces:
“It’s really very similar to the way that Mayor [Thomas M.] Menino runs the agency in Boston, so really it’s having an open door, an open phone line, being out and about talking to people, hearing different ideas. It doesn’t mean there’s going to be 100% agreement all the time, but people will certainly be part of the process.”
Kast asked about McKenzie’s role “vis-a-vis neighborhoods” in Boston.
“I don’t really think she’s had a role,” Grillo said. “Her comments about an open door – I think a lot of critics would laugh at that. Basically the agency is run by the mayor. He pretty much decides the height of buildings. . . This is not an agency that’s transparent. There’s a lot of tension between the neighborhoods and City Hall.”