Federal Hill Business Owners Look to Add Security Patrols to the Area

| February 9, 2018 | 0 Comments

Frustrated with rising crime in Baltimore City and the perception that Federal Hill is not a safe neighborhood, Federal Hill business owners are teaming up to hire a security team for the business district. The initiative is being led by Federal Hill Main Street (FHMS) in cooperation with the Federal Hill Hospitality Association (FHHA) and Federal Hill Business Association (FHBA).

Several high profile robberies have taken place in Federal Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods since last year including a number of assaults and robberies on Halloween.

“I think the perception is not in line with the reality,” said Brian McComas, President of the FHHA and co-owner of Crossbar and Ryleigh’s Oyster. “But the types and frequency of crimes now happening in neighborhoods once deemed to be safe have left residents and visitors alike not wanting to be the next victim.”

McComas noted that while the area used to struggle with incidents such as “larcenies and car break-ins, there are now more carjackings, assaults, and robberies.”

“Sales are down 25-30% in the city since the riots of April 2015 and sales in surrounding counties are up,” said McComas citing industry reports he receives. Many members of FHHA also have suburban restaurants.

“The city has better food, is more vibrant, and has more events you can attend, but so many people from the surrounding counties are deciding not to come Downtown anymore,” he continued.

McComas is hoping the added security will improve safety in the neighborhood and hopes the visible presence will make people feel better when walking around the neighborhood.

“The city has struggled to fix the problem of rising crime, so we decided to work together with our community partners on a solution,” said McComas. “The crime narrative is all over the news, and until we change that narrative, it will be a slow recovery.”

He also noted that he appreciates the support FHHA has received from the Baltimore Police Department.

“We want to cleanup the neighborhood, and also eliminate nuisance crimes, panhandling, and loitering,” said McComas.

“We are excited for what the Cross Street Market can be and we are excited for the added density that these new buildings can bring,” said McComas.

FHHA currently hires ProjectServe, a subsidiary of the Living Classrooms Foundation, for street cleaning three times a week.

FHMS issued an RFP for a security contract that would patrol its boundaries of Montgomery St. to the north, Ostend St. to the south, S. Hanover St. to the west, and Light St. to the east. Patrols, which would be unarmed, would be deployed seven days a week during hours that could range from 10am to 3am each day.

FHMS President Craig Stoner told SouthBMore.com that the organization will not only look at the cost in the proposals but also the security plans of each company submitting a bid. Stoner said that the number of security guards would vary depending on the time of day, but that he’d like to see at least two during all operating hours with extra patrols on weekend nights. This could include guards in cars, guards on foot, and guards on Segways.

Stoner said the security initiative, which will likely begin in April, will initially be funded by members of the FHHA and developers as they look for a more permanent funding mechanism. He noted that costs will likely be a less than $200,000 per year. He believes that extending the patrols into the surrounding six neighborhoods of Federal Hill, Federal Hill South, Otterbein, Sharp-Leadenhall, South Baltimore, and Riverside would bring the cost up to about $300,000/year.

“The RFP will give us a monetary number of what we need to fundraise,” said Stoner, who noted that the initiative could start off at a smaller scale as fundraising gets underway.

A permanent funding mechanism could include establishing a benefits district that would add an increased tax on businesses properties. But, if that was the case, FHMS hopes to see the elimination of the Federal Hill Retail Business District License (RBDL) which business properties pay for yearly. A benefits district could also provide cleaning initiatives in the area. Stoner said that these changes would likely take two to three years and would require legislation.

Stoner said that another option could be joining the jurisdiction of Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore (WPOB), which has initiatives that include providing cleaning crews, security, and marketing for the Inner Harbor, Harbor East, and now Fells Point. Membership would also include a fee on business properties.

As Fells Point was just added to WPOB this year, Stoner said that the organization likely wouldn’t be ready for another expansion for a couple of years. He said that WPOB has been great advisers thus far in this security initiative for FHMS.

FHMS is looking into all funding options including Casino Impact Grants from the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership and the Baltimore Casino Local Development Council. Stoner said they will look into fundraisers and festivals to help pay for the initiative, along with online donation platforms. He will engage the six surrounding neighborhoods associations for input as well and will be establishing a committee.

Stoner said this security initiative began in November. “We approached the businesses about some cleaning and greening initiatives, but the conversation turned towards crime and safety and how its impacting everyone’s sales,” he said.

Stoner said that FHMS, FHHA, and FHBA have had its differences in the past, but that everyone has rallied around the common goal of a safer neighborhood and a perception of safety in the area.

FHMS wants to see the security guards wearing bright colors with branded logos so their presence is felt and so that visitors and neighbors see that someone is around keeping an eye on the area. The guards, who will not have arrest powers or weapons, will develop a plan to communicate with the Baltimore Police Department.

Stoner didn’t rule out scaling back the security initiative a bit in the future if it achieves its goal of improving the area and the perception of safety in the area.

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Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, father of three, amateur pizza chef, skateboarder, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.