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No surprise: Port Covington TIF passes

P. Kenneth Burns

As expected, the Baltimore City Council passed Monday the largest tax financing package for a development in city history.

The 12-1-2 vote – for each bill - came after months of controversy over the size of the tax package and requirements for jobs, wages and housing.  The three-bill package creates the Port Covington development and taxing districts and authorizes $660 million in tax bonds to finance infrastructure work at the site.

The bonds would be repaid with property tax revenue generated by the profit.

Councilmen Bill Henry and Mary Pat Clarke abstained from voting on the package.  Councilman Warren Branch voted against the bills.

Included in the financing package is a $135.9 million community benefits agreement that many call precedent setting.  The agreement requires that 30 percent of the construction jobs and 30 percent of the permanent jobs at Port Covington go to Baltimore City residents. 

It also requires that 20 percent of the residential units at the site be affordable housing. 

Marc Weller, president of Sagamore Development, praised the council’s action.

“We are humbled by the overwhelming support for Port Covington and grateful for the leadership of City Council President Jack Young, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and all of the city officials who have taken part in this legislative process,” Weller said.

The Rev. Glenna Huber, co-chair of the community group BUILD, said a lot of work was done to make sure the entire city benefitted from the financing package.

“I’m pleased that we have been able to negotiate an unprecedented deal that will secure employment, secure housing, secure that the city will receive a share of the profit,” she said.  “We’ve done a lot of good work on behalf of the city and with the city and with Sagamore.”

But not everyone thought it was a good deal.

The advocacy group Housing Our Neighbors held a protest outside of city hall before the meeting.  They built a display of boxes with various messages written on them like “2500+ still homeless” and “Baltimore’s ‘affordable housing’ plan.”

Anthony Williams, a member of the group, said BUILD and the six South Baltimore neighborhoods near the project, known as SB6, took “a handout” when they agreed to support the project in exchange for the community benefits agreements.

“All these folks that’s getting these handouts like BUILD, SB6,” he said.  “Let’s see how far this money take them.”

Some advocates criticized the agreement, however, because it allows Sagamore Development, developer of the $5.5 billion South Baltimore project, to move some of those units to other parts of the city.

Williams said the community agreement didn’t offer what they were asking for like more than half of the jobs at Port Covington are reserved for city residents and more affordable housing than what was offered in the agreement and not just at Port Covington.

Huber said they stand by the agreement that was worked out between the city, Sagamore and the other community groups.

“We negotiated the best deal possible given the parameters in which we had to work,” she added.

The agreement also includes money to pay for a workforce development center, for YouthWorks summer jobs and scholarships for city public school students.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Kevin Plank, Sagamore owner, quietly started buying land parcels in Port Covington as early as 2012.  Plank, founder and CEO of the nation’s second largest sports apparel company, Under Armor, spent more than $114 million to purchase land for the project.

Bill Cole, president of Baltimore Development Corporation, said he’s looking forward to having “cranes in the air” at the site.

“I think they’re getting ready to move forward with the permitting process,” he said.

Cole added that “more concrete plans” will be seen over the next couple of months.  

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