Control Data Corp., one of the nation's largest computer-equipment manufacturers, broke ground earlier this month for a $4-million small-business complex intended to spark a renaissance in Baltimore's depressed Park Heights district.
Baltimore city officials see the Business and Technology Center --designed to provide office space and support services for small businesses -- as a means of attracting jobs to the impoverished area. for its part, Control Data hopes to profit from a revitalized Park Heights, if not in the short run, then in the long.
Park Heights is a neighborhood in trouble, the kind of place that comes up in debates about, say, "urban enterprise zones." Of its 40,000 inhabitants, about a third depend on some form of public assistance, and more than a third have incomes below the poverty line. More than 90 percent are nonwhite. Unemployment stands at about 18 percent, and among the young it surpasses 50 percent.
But officials at the Baltimore Economic Development Corp. say the area has potential.
"It hs a central location," said Bernard Berkowitz, who heads the nonprofit, city-chartered corporaton. "It has a large labor pool, together with the availability of manpower recruitment and training programs." And the city has arranged ample financing to expand Park Heights' ability to accommodate the added industry.
The aim of Control Data's center is to bring jobs into the neighborhood -- about 550 within the complex, a spokesman said -- while providing the kind of advanced facilities that will attract other businesses. The 105,000-square-foot building will provide a switchboard, receptionists, word-processing and other office amenities as well as space.
Also to be included are financial services ranging from accounting and marketing assistance to managerial and financial counseling for struggling young businesses. "If's part of a support structure to provide minority entrepreneurs with services they cannot provide by themselves," explained Edward Daniels, who oversees the project for City Venture. City Venture is a joint venture of Control Data and 13 other companies and religious organizations.
Similar projects are either finished or under way in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Toledo and Charleston, S.C. And Control Data already has a stake in the Park Heights area -- Commercial Credit Corp., a Control Data subsidiary, employs 17 area residents at a bindery that eventually may employ 200.
The Park City facility is going up near Park Circle on part of a 40-acre vacant lot. The city's plans call for 1,700 of a planned 2,500 jobs in the area to be generated by an industrial park on the vacant plot. Berkowitz said the city plans to make the land available to businesses through lease or purchase agreements for the equivalent of $30,000 an acre, what he terms "a low price for industrial real estate."
"The Business and Technology Center is really the centerpiece," Berkowitz said last week. Not only is the center probably the leading potential employer at the Park Circle site, he said, but "it is also a very valuable selling point to be able to say that Control Data is constructing a center."
Business leaders and city officials express cautious hopes that the area will be declared an urban enterprise zone if legislation under consideration by Congress is approved.
"It has many of the right characteristics," said Daniels, referring to the relatively small size and low income of the population. Legislation proposed by Reps. Jack Kemp (R-N. Y.), and Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.), and endorsed at one point by President Reagan, would provide federal tax incentives to businesses settling in blighted areas.
While it would welcome an enterprise-zone plan, Control Data says it isn't counting on tax breaks. "Working together in a public-private partnership," a spokesman said, "we feel we can do something about the serious problems of the inner city and somewhere down the road produce profit opportunities for private industry."