Citicorp chairman John S. Reed rarely makes public statements, but his latest is a real doozy: Citicorp is considering moving its headquarters out of New York.

If it did, it would be a big blow to the big city's prestige, a damaging defeat for its world-class financial center, possibly its worst corporate- relocation nightmare since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles.

Yet nary a headline has screamed in the local tabloids. Elected officials are not up in arms. Few people seem to know what Mr. Reed said, and those who do know - it was reported Dec. 14 in the Christian Science Monitor - don't take it too seriously.

Even Mr. Reed may not yet be completely serious about the threat, having been quoted as saying, "Will we actually do it? Who knows?"

But whether he is spoiling for a fight over tax breaks, lighting a motivational fire under his troops, or just growing tired of the place so closely associated with his "the Citi never sleeps" advertising slogan, Mr. Reed went to unusual lengths to get his word out.

Perhaps he just picked the wrong medium.

The Boston-based Monitor is a world-renowned but small-circulation newspaper. Even if New Yorkers had seen the offending headline - "Citicorp May Leave Big Apple; Chairman Complains of Static Atmosphere, Costs" - they may have been inclined to brush it off as they do a host of other indignities.

But underneath it all, something indeed was afoot at the nation's biggest banking company.

Last month, rumors were flying that Citicorp might be moving out of the city where it and its predecessor banks have put down roots since 1812. Reporters from the American Banker and other publications sought comment from Citicorp spokesman John Morris, who assured all that there was nothing to the story.

A Christian Science Monitor staff writer went ahead and prepared an article that listed other possible homes for Citicorp's 20,000 headquarters employees in places as diverse as Tampa, Omaha, Austin, Tex., and Reston, Va.

But that article was quashed after Mr. Morris insisted that the facts were off. To discuss the issue further, the Monitor reporter, Ron Scherer, and Mr. Morris agreed to meet for lunch a week later at Citicorp Center, the distinctive headquarters building with the pitched roof that dominates the skyline of midtown Manhattan.

Just as Mr. Scherer and Mr. Morris emerged from an elevator, who should they bump into but the chairman and chief executive himself.

Mr. Reed then launched into a fairly comprehensive disquisition on why Citicorp might relocate.

As reported, Mr. Reed said he had become "considerably more serious" during the last year and a half about leaving Manhattan. He pointed to the "psychology of the place," saying the atmosphere is less suited to a high- tech, information-based corporation than that of Palo Alto, Calif., near Stanford University, or the Silicon Valley.

"Boston would be ideal but it's high cost," mused Mr. Reed, who is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After the story appeared, Mr. Morris flatly denied to American Banker that he and Mr. Reed had purposely set up the "impromptu" interview to influence ongoing talks between the bank and the city about tax incentives and other inducements to stay.

"This was, honest to God, just a chance encounter," Mr. Morris said. He added that Mr. Reed has not changed his attitude about wanting to avoid press coverage.

Meanwhile, New York City is taking the flap with Citicorp in stride.

"They have already moved some jobs (out of the city) but as far as corporate headquarters goes, I think that's just pie in the sky," said Adam Brodsky, vice president of the New York City Economic Development Corp. "There aren't any real concrete plans to leave."

Besides, he added, "if it's not economic issues, then there's not much the city can do with tax incentives or what have you."

In the Christian Science Monitor interview, Mr. Reed complained about the myopia of executives anchored to New York, about how they probably couldn't name five of the most important consumer products.

"There's nothing we can do to fix that," Mr. Brodsky said.

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