In the News
Consultant keeps eyes on prize in
By Judy A. Strausbaugh
Published: Sep 03, 2005 11:55 PM EST
LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - This summer, the
Lancaster County Convention Center Authority realized it was
time to call in an outside expert.
With the $134 million Marriott Hotel and
convention center project nearing a start date, Maurice D.
Walker joined the team.
Walker, a native of Baltimore, is on loan,
so to speak. He is employed by Bulls Advisory Group LLC of
Bowie, Md., whose consulting services the authority has been
using for some time.
A few months ago, Herman Bulls, president of
the group, suggested sending Walker to guide the authority
through the next “critical” phase of the hotel/convention
center project, said David Hixson, executive director of the
authority, in statement issued in June.
Last month, the authority gave the go-ahead
for demolition plans to be drawn up for the buildings that sit
behind the Watt & Shand façade at Penn Square. The plans are a
major step toward the planned ground-breaking in December.
The convention center authority is the first
consulting assignment for Walker, 43, who joined Bulls
Advisory Group in May. Walker has a background in construction
management and financing.
He has a degree in electrical engineering
from Purdue University and a master’s in business
administration from Harvard Business School.
Soft-spoken and careful, Walker said he is
focused on the construction phase of the hotel/convention
center project. During its eight years of fits and starts, the
controversial project has gouged some deep wounds, but Walker
brings “fresh eyes” to the project, he said.
“I can envision the grand prize,” he said.
Regardless of what the public perception might be, “this
project has tremendous momentum,” he said.
Walker said he is the right man for the job
because he “understands the various sensitivities” stimulated
by the project.
And they are myriad.
They include: the use of millions of dollars
in public money to help support a partnership with a privately
owned hotel business; school district funding needs; city
government’s guarantee of using taxpayer dollars to fund any
delinquent loan payments and new real estate tax levies;
property owners and developers eager to see a substantial
return on their investments; and the minority business
community’s dissatisfaction with current efforts to include
black-, Latino- and women-owned enterprises in the project’s
Walker’s assignment is to focus on the
tangible aspects of the project so Hixson can spend more time
promoting the project to the community. “He needs to promote
the transformation that could happen to downtown at its core,”
Bulls Advisory Group also appears to be a
prescribed remedy to what ails the project. The firm
specializes in public-private real estate development and
lists among its clients the University of Pennsylvania,
instigator of major economic and community development
initiatives in northwest Philadelphia.
John Fry, president of Franklin & Marshall
College and a member of the Lancaster County Convention Center
Authority Board, previously served in the administration of
University of Pennsylvania and led the University of
Pennsylvania’s interest in that project.
Sitting next to a bank of windows that
overlook Penn Square to the northeast, Walker said becoming a
real estate development consultant isn’t what he originally
intended for himself.
More than 20 years ago, he was interested in
using his electrical engineering skills to find ways to help
business become more efficient through the use of computer
But he took a different tack and in 1985
graduated with his master’s in business administration.
“I recognized early on that I wanted to be
where the decisions were made,” said Walker.
When he first came on board at the
convention center authority, Walker said, he listened and
tried to understand those involved and their levels of
influence. “I did it in an effort to decide how to get things
done, how to move toward opening day,” he said.
The local participants in the project bring
their own passions, but Walker’s objectivity enables him to
guide them to “look out for the best interests of the
community,” he said.
One of Walker’s first meetings in Lancaster
was with Al Taylor and Fred Clark, black lawyers who were
charged by the authority to help craft its minority and women
But first things first, said Walker. “The
authority is focused on design development and on various
aspects of the cost,” he said. He doesn’t want to minimize the
importance of minority involvement in the project, but “we
have to determine that you first have a project.”
“Then, from the authority’s standpoint, we
can get to the issue of inclusiveness,” he said.
Walker notes that Bulls Advisory Group is a
registered minority business. “Herman Bulls is a pre-eminent
authority on public-private partnerships, and is uniquely
qualified to work on this project.”
© 2004-2005 Lancaster Newspapers
PO Box 1328, Lancaster PA 17608, (717) 291-8811