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Q&A with Sam Minnitte

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BWI Business Partnership Prepares for a New Era

It’s the dawn of a new era for the BWI Business Partnership. Founded in 1985 as the BWI Commuter Assistance Center at a time when only a few hotels operated within what was becoming the BWI Business District, it is now home to more than two dozen lodging options. The organization is also a leader in promoting economic development in the area.

With the hiring the entrepreneurial Gina Stewart as executive director, Board Chair Sam Minnitte, vice president and area manager with the Baltimore office of engineering professional services firm WSP, is excited about the partnership’s new direction.

What will the $1 million Anne Arundel County Local Development Council (LDC) grant be used for?

It will be used for the circulator bus program for the county, which will allow for a full-time transit service to run through most of the high employment areas within the BWI Business District, including BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, the car rental facility, Arundel Mills, Airport Square, the Cromwell Light Rail station (in Glen Burnie) and other locations, to run more frequently. It currently serves about 200 passengers a day.

What other grants has the partnership received?

We’ve received a beautification grant, also from the LDC. People sometimes ask, “Why is the partnership involved in beautification in the district?” But understand that how it looks and functions has much to do with perceptions of the market and people who want to establish a business here.
We may also work on creating more signage for the area, too. As a nonprofit, we’re always looking for grants that help make us more viable.

What’s your opinion of the Mass Transit Administration’s (MTA) Light Rail service?

Light rail has one really important characteristic: it has a dedicated right-of-way and thus does not have the challenge of traffic with congestion uncertainties. That’s important, because when you look at transit, you analyze a series of options, such as pedestrian traffic, buses and bikes, and more recently, shared rides and scooters.
The purpose is offering options for improved mobility. Remember, five years ago Lyft and Uber didn’t exist, and by 2025, they will be employing autonomous cars. All of these will improve mobility for patrons in the Greater BWI Marshall area. Coordinating these alternatives is the need and challenge to improve mobility for all.

How is the partnership getting involved in microtransit opportunities?

By investing grant money in the circulator and working with the MTA to expand services. This is all a part of the “first and last mile” transit challenge.

Do you think the Linthicum Light Rail station should close?

I’ve always wondered why it was there and assumed it was for walk-ups, given that it does not offer parking. I’ve never seen many folks stop there, but I don’t know what the MTA would gain by closing it, either.

What are your thoughts about expanding Baltimore Washington Parkway?

It’s critical that it happens. It’s a tough subject to tackle, due to the ownership of the parkway by the federal government west of Route 175 and the state east of that artery; however, I know that MDOT [the Maryland Department of Transportation] and [Secretary Pete] Rahn are working hard on that issue.

It is so over capacity that more accidents have been occurring there.

What will the upgrades to the BWI MARC station accomplish?

When I used the garage regularly, I was always shocked at how full it was at 5:15 a.m.
We recognize the value of the station to the MARC Penn Line and the access it provides to the northeast corridor. Construction will modernize the station from an infrastructure standpoint. Construction is moving quickly and it appears that it will be complete during the first half of 2019. At that point, I think the station will really take off.

What are your thoughts on the expansion at BWI Marshall?

The airport served 27 million passengers a year ago. When I heard that news, I recalled a conversation I had with [long-time area businessman] Lou Zagarino, when he mentioned that BWI Marshall’s goal 20 years ago was to reach 2 million patrons; no one imagined the growth to 27 million.

So, the expansion will only make a great airport even greater. Actually, the main challenge today is that BWI Marshall doesn’t have the real estate to expand, like Dulles [International Airport, in Northern Virginia] does. However, Maryland Aviation Administrator Ricky Smith and his team are always addressing efficiencies, which allows BWI Marshall to successfully attract patrons from all over the Baltimore-Washington region.

What would you tell residents who are affected by noise around the airport?

The Federal Aviation Administration manages the planes in terms of how flights are directed and that’s where they need to focus. We cannot affect operations at BWI Marshall due to federal program actions that it’s not Maryland’s policy to address. However, BWI Marshall, is doing all it can do locally to work with the airlines and residents.

What’s your take on the MagLev?

It is a necessary option for intercity mobility, but we will need to address area residents’ concerns. We look forward to hearing more from the MagLev team in 2019.

What would you like to see happen in the BWI Business District?

Greater involvement that would help elevate the Greater BWI Marshall area as the economic engine between Washington and Baltimore that it truly is.
We need to elevate the partnership’s game to support this goal for the area’s thoughtful development and transportation infrastructure, as well as local mobility. With the hiring of Gina and a renewed focus by the partnership board, we’re poised to achieve that goal.

Is joining the partnership economical for small businesses?

It’s one of the best bucks a business can spend. We have about 200 members from public and private sectors, from the southern side of Baltimore to Annapolis to Columbia.