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Port Covington Development Plan Comes Under Fire

Sagamore Development

Opponents of Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s plan to develop Port Covington say it is built on faulty numbers. They laid out their case Monday night to explain why they want the city to put the brakes on the South Baltimore development so it can be studied further.

At issue is whether the financial analysis of the Port Covington project done for the city can be trusted. That analysis, by MuniCap, of Columbia, projected the city would reap $1.7 billion in financial benefit over 41 years.

But the community organization BUILD, Baltimore United in Leadership Development, says that’s overly optimistic. And they complained that Sagamore, Plank’s development arm, paid for the study.

TischlerBise, the Bethesda firm BUILD hired to study the proposal, said the Municap analysis is simplistic and lacks detail.

Carson Bise, the company’s president, said the earlier analysis is flawed because it envisions just one scenario of how the land will be developed in the decades ahead. He says there should be multiple scenarios because the economy can change.

"Typically in our experience it is an optimistic scenario and when we are talking about a project of this magnitude, we’re talking about a build out that’s over quite a long period of time," Bise said.

The $5.5 billion project would include a new Under Armour headquarters as well as 7,500 residences, a hotel, businesses, offices and parks. It’s been described as a city within a city.

The project would be financed in part with $535 million in TIF bonds, TIF stands for tax increment financing. The city would sell that much in bonds and the bonds would be paid back with the property taxes the project generates, not from the city’s general fund.

Bise said the TIF money should be limited to public improvements that are absolutely necessary, like roads, water and sewer. But as it stands now, some of the money would be spent on extras, like kayak slips and a trolley circulator.

BUILD wants the City Council to hold off green lighting the development until an independent, third party can do a study.

Marc Weller, the President of Sagamore, says some of BUILD’s issues with the city’s analysis are due to a failure to simply ask about the process. Weller says city officials were thoroughly questioned about whether various parts of the city budget would be affected by the addition of a large new economic development project.

The Port Covington project lands in the lap of the City Council’s taxation committee next week.

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