Baltimore businesses see the bridge collapse as a short-term setback

Baltimore business owners face a tough spring as officials remove the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, but many hope the worst disruptions will be short-lived.

The Singaporean freighter Dali hit the bridge on March 26, killing two workers, and 10 days earlier, Alex del Sordo bought Hart Yacht Cafe, a yacht cafe with its own small marina. Four others are believed to be dead.

“We don't want to lay off anybody,” Del Sordo said Friday of his 75 employees. “We want to keep them here — working, happy, healthy.”

Del Sordo offered a 50% discount to first responders at the cafe last week, which hurt his bottom line. His biggest concerns now, he said, are “stabilizing the costs of our work and keeping the lights on.”

Baltimore is not closed because the bridge is closed.

Colleen Torbert, President and CEO of Baltimore Development Corporation

The restaurant's marina, which is usually booked by pleasure boaters, cannot be relocated to accommodate those involved in the bridge response, he said. “We don't know what to do with all the boats on our property. We don't know where they're going and how they're going to get out of here.

Hart Ferry is located on Bear Creek, which flows into the Patapsco River, where the Francis Scott Key Bridge spanned decades. Businesses in Baltimore's historic Dundalk neighborhood have suffered from port disruptions as cleanup efforts continue. Currently shipping Stopped in and out of Baltimore HarborA spokesman said, however, that the trucks are still being processed outside the sea terminals.

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Army Engineers It plans to open a 35-foot deep limited access channel Boats and small commercial vessels will be docked near the wreck by the end of this month. The 50-foot-deep canal, which allows container ships to pass through, is expected to reopen by the end of May. At present, only two channels less than 15 feet deep are open to shipping, which is limited.

Some area businesses liken the downturn to the early days of the pandemic, but many say the surges of the past few years have prepared them for a crisis of this magnitude. However, key parts of the city and region's economy, from trucking to commercial real estate and local restaurants, rely on the port. It handled $80 billion worth of foreign goods Last year.

Michael Clarke, president of BTR Logistics, which stores and ships cargo through the port, said the lost shipments would “hit 75% of our revenue in the short term.” Some of the ships his warehouse accepts cargo after arriving in Baltimore are now placed internationally.

“We're doing everything we can right now to keep costs down and stay alive,” Clark said.

Colleen Torbert, president and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corporation, an economic development nonprofit, noted the assessment. 20,000 local jobs are directly linked to the port. A major concern of surrounding businesses is how long it will take for port operations to resume at full capacity, he said.

“The longer the channel is closed, the more the problem gets worse,” Torbert said. Although it is expected to take years to rebuild the bridge, he is confident that trucks will be able to take the existing lanes through the city without affecting business. That may be inconvenient, but “Baltimore isn't closed because the bridge is closed,” he acknowledged.

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It will be a slow couple of months, but … there is still high demand for industrial real estate.

Jim Sievers, Senior Vice President, Gold and Company

BTR is now trying to shift its incoming cargo shipments, primarily plywood and steel, to other ports on the East Coast, but getting interstate trucking permits is expensive and time-consuming, Clark said. The company has applied for a loan with the federal Small Business Administration, but it has already had to lay off a dozen workers.

“Apparently, many of our customers have made alternate arrangements with different warehouses in different cities and those items will not come back here until we fix this issue,” he said.

The SBA will offer low-interest loans to small businesses for the next two weeks, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signed an executive order on Friday. Provides $60 million in relief funds For businesses and workers affected by the bridge collapse. The aid comes on the heels of $60 million announced last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation to support the rebuilding effort.

President Joe Biden visited the ongoing response effort in Baltimore on Friday and reiterated his administration's support for the recovery effort. “It will take time,” he said, but he vowed that “state and federal officials will work together to rebuild this bridge as quickly as possible.”

The city's commercial real estate sector doesn't expect a prolonged downturn, said Jim Sievers, senior vice president of Gould & Company, which serves the Baltimore metro area. “Everybody feels it's more of a short-term issue than a long-term issue,” he said.

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Chivers is optimistic the region will bounce back. Although some customers are pulling back, he expects plenty of interest in filling vacant properties.

“It's going to be a slow couple of months, but I think long-term values ​​will continue to be where they are,” he said. “Baltimore still has high demand for industrial real estate.”

A few miles from the harbor, John Minatakis, who runs the family-owned bar and restaurant Jimmy's Famous Seafood, already sees less foot traffic, especially at lunchtime. “Everyone in the region is still in shock,” Minatakis said.

He hopes the bridge removal and reconstruction effort — a process that will require substantial work crews and officials on and around the site — will bring in some business in the coming months. Meanwhile, he works to maintain his balance sheet.

Minatakis said he is somewhat pessimistic about the ability of local businesses to recover quickly. “It will be a bit longer than Covid,” he predicted. “We're preparing for the worst.”

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