The Baltimore County Council is weighing whether to use tax money to help the developer of the old Bethlehem Steel site in Sparrows Point. At a hearing Tuesday, council members appeared receptive to Tradepoint Atlantic’s request for up to $78 million.
Some big-name companies like FedEx and Under Armour are already at Tradepoint. Smaller name businesses are there too. The money would go to road, water and sewer improvements on the 3,200 acre property to entice more companies to locate there. And while it’s been estimated there eventually will be around 17,000 jobs at Sparrows Point, county economic development director Will Anderson told the council without the county’s help, there are no guarantees.
Anderson said, “Today there’s 4 million square feet of development down there. There’s still 10 million to go. It doesn’t necessarily have to come if there’s not roads, water and sewer.”
And that would mean fewer jobs and not as much tax money collected by the county. Anderson raised the possibility that without the deal,Tradepoint may move away from distribution centers and manufacturing and instead go with pouring concrete and turning much of Sparrows Point into a parking lot for cars being shipped in and out of the port.
“That does not provide new taxes to the order that you see in the report and it certainly doesn’t provide high paying or family supporting wage jobs,” Anderson said.
Nearly everyone who spoke to council supported the deal. Many were from local unions or nearby neighborhood associations, like Francis Taylor, president of the North Point Peninsula Council.
“This most recently proposed infrastructure financing agreement will signal a strong public-private investment partnership that will foster economic revitalization and environmental benefit in southeast Baltimore County,” Taylor said.
The one naysayer was Mark Baskervill with Baltimore County Campaign for Liberty, who asked why Tradepoint, which has investors with deep pockets, can’t pay for the improvements.
“Because if we use taxpayer assistance for this, we’re potentially throwing that money away if Tradepoint could just pay their own way anyway,” Baskerville said.
That notion was challenged by Republican councilman David Marks, who said government investment historically has helped economic growth through infrastructure, from the transcontinental railroad to the interstate highway system.
Marks said, “There is a role for government in spurring these things along and some people just don’t get that.”
One year ago, Marks and his fellow Republicans on council voted against using county tax money to help the developers of Towson Row. Republican councilman Todd Crandell, who represents Sparrows Point, said the two deals are apples and oranges, because with Tradepoint, the county will own the roads, as well as the water and sewer lines.
“This is the way that the county funds projects like this all the time,” Crandell said. “This is just of such a scale and magnitude that is so much larger than the county has ever looked at before.”
Crandell echoed others in calling Tradepoint the opportunity of a lifetime, particularly for his district, hit hard by the closing of Bethlehem Steel.
“And as long as the details work out as we work through the next week to crunch the numbers and make sure it is a good deal for the taxpayer, that we go ahead and move forward,” Crandell said.
Details include how long until the county breaks even, and can it afford to build a new fire station and police substation to meet the growing demand caused by the development? Also, can it count on the state to give the county an owed tax credit to help pay for the roads.
While council members had questions about the proposal, none of them openly criticized it. One council member predicted it would pass easily
A vote on the Tradepoint deal is expected this coming Monday.