Annapolis tries to balance its historic past with economic growth

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

For years, this compact capital city has basked in the shadow of the United States Naval Academy. But that is about to rapidly change. Annapolis, a city of 32,000 nestled on Chesapeake Bay and midway between Washington and Baltimore, and surrounding Anne Arundel County are undergoing a small-scale high-technology boom. But as they do, local officials are trying to prevent the area from pinning its economic future solely to high-tech.

``We've seen what happens when a Silicon Valley focuses on one sector like computers,'' says Jeff Stone, recently appointed economic development director for Anne Arundel. ``We have to get our act together and build a balanced base.'' Mr. Stone, who calls the new Annapolis ``unabashedly Yuppified,'' adds that ``managed'' growth is in store.

Until recently, many factions in Annapolis resisted growth. Preservationist groups felt that the quality of life was threatened. Elsewhere in the county, it took a succession of events to turn the newly christened Baltimore-Washington Corridor into a true high-tech region that feeds off an expanding universe of biotechnology, electronics, service industries, plus telecommunications.

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Annapolis's Maryland neighbors include a NASA complex as well as the super-secretive, ultra-high-tech National Security Agency. Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) is in Anne Arundel County, and nearly 4 million square feet of space is coming on stream this year, or already recently occupied. Hundreds of acres are being bulldozed, and some 3,000 new jobs are expected in the office and industrial parks.

Illinois Institute of Technology moved part of its operation in from the Midwest, and Northrop transplanted one division that, until July, was based in Virginia.

``They come for our quality of life,'' says Annapolis Mayor Richard Hillman, a Republican generally given credit for weighing needs of varied constituencies. ``Our specialized aviation and electronics companies are growing, and success breeds on itself. They come here to be next to others.''

The aim is not only for types of ``clean'' industry sought elsewhere, but for distribution centers. A large number of European, Asian, and US companies have relocated here within the past several months. With other sections of the Corridor growing, and a 466-acre science park under way for the University of Maryland 15 miles southwest of Annapolis, other projects are lifting off drawing boards. One is a 2.4 million-square foot commercial complex.

Growing congestion in Annapolis is troubling some residents. ``There wasn't coordination on the Restaurant Plaza scheme,'' complains a city politician. The Plaza contains five restaurants and traffic around the areas has taken on the look of a 'round-the-clock rush hour.

As Annapolis celebrates its 339th birthday, the town has much to reflect on. Despite the flurry of new business, local officials say tackiness and sleaze will not gain a footing. It remains a living museum, and its identity should stay intact.

``Nobody would stand for dismantling an 18th-century landmark,'' insists Mayor Hillman.

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