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Suburban vision wrong for an urban park, neighbors say

Hundreds gather to tell Baltimore officials Patterson Park should shun cars, not accommodate them

pp verde

At a hearing in the Virginia Baker Recreation Center, residents blasted a plan to add parking and a loop road to Patterson Park.

Photo by: Fern Shen

A feisty crowd estimated by organizers at nearly 500 people gathered in East Baltimore last night to voice opposition to a proposal to add a loop road and 96 more parking spaces at Patterson Park.

Carrying signs (“No more cars, no more parking, no more paving”) and peppering city officials with pointed questions (“What’s the hidden agenda?”), they delivered possibly their most apt message at one point with a show of hands.

“How many people walked here tonight?” asked Bill Vondrasek, acting head of the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Almost every hand in the room shot up.

Parking Would Make Park Safer, City Says

How they got to the meeting – held in the park itself, at the Virginia Baker Recreation Center – was a question at the heart of the residents’ dispute with the city’s plan.

Vondrasek made clear over the course of the evening the city’s rationale for the project.

All ages attended the hearing. (Photo by Fern Shen)

All ages attended the hearing. (Photo by Fern Shen)

As the rec center gets a multi-million dollar makeover and if Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot goes ahead with her proposal to move senior services to the park’s Casino building, he said, park usage will increase and some of these people will find walking there too difficult and dangerous.

“We thought about safety,” Vondrasek said. “Is everybody who participates in these activities going to walk here?”

“Yes!” people in the crowd shouted.

“Will parents with strollers walk from a mile away?” Vondrasek said.

“Yes!” they shouted. “We did!” several parents called out.

Culture Clash

Although there was a system of submitting questions via index cards, Vondrasek engaged in a fair amount of direct dialogue with the crowd.

A crowd overwhelmingly hostile to the plan filled the rec center.

A hostile overflow crowd packed the rec center. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Every hypothetical Vondrasek brought up – rec center employees closing up late at night, people carrying cash from fees they collect for sports team – was met with scorn.

“Baloney! We’ve done it this way for 30 years!” “Light rail!” “Shuttle buses!” “Bike racks!” “Golf carts!” “Walk, it’s good for you!”

“I don’t think we could ask the staff to park in the street,” Vondrasek said. “We do!” the crowd shouted back. People don’t drive to the park in their cars, one woman explained, because “if you did you’d lose your parking place!”

Acting head of the Department of Recreation and Parks faced a hostile audience.

Acting head of Recreation and Parks Bill Vondrasek spoke for the city. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Several people said later they felt the core problem between the residents and the city comes comes down to a culture clash.

“I think they’re very out of touch with how people use the park,” said Joe Di Mattina, president of the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association.

“You can tell that the people who wrote this plan live in the suburbs and park in garages,” added his wife, Jen Di Mattina.

Cars Already in the Park

The city’s plan for the park had its origins in the health department’s wish to shut down the John Booth Senior Center in Highlandtown and transfer activities to the Casino. (That decision was driven by a loss of federal funding, Barbot reiterated last night.)

Seniors with Alzhemier’s and related illness using day services at the Casino  were recently “transitioned” elsewhere in the city, Barbot said, adding that seniors’ use of the casino would not, under her proposal, exceed the previous group’s usage. “They’ll just be getting there a different way.”

Chart showing existing and proposed pavement in the park. (Baltimore Department Recreation and Parks)

Chart showing existing and proposed pavement in the park. (Baltimore Department Recreation and Parks)

Expanded rec center programs, Vondrasek said,  might increase use of the park “by the hundreds per day.”

Vondrasek said another reason for the proposed loop road and additional parking spaces  is to better manage the cars that are already there.

“What you have now is more dangerous than a space that’s [properly] designed for” parking, he said.

Vondrasek cited city plans to narrow 25-foot-wide park roads to 12-foot wide paths and to raze the cinder-block building and parking area used by Rec and Parks workers in the northwest part of the park. (Plans are to move the maintenance yard to Clifton Park.)

Bicyclists, pedestrians, even a giant chipmunk headed in to the rec center for the meeting. (Photo Fern Shen)

Bicyclists, pedestrians, even a giant chipmunk headed in to the rec center for the meeting. (Photo Fern Shen)

Those moves, according to a slide he showed, will result in a 45 percent reduction (4.78 acres) of pavement.

He pointed to other city parks, such as Cylburn Arboretum, where parking is clustered in one area, leaving the remainder for a pedestrian experience.

“This is a different area!” someone said. “People drink in those parking lots!” another said.

Politicians and the Process

The vocal crowd stayed respectful for the most part, though some things they heard sent them over the edge, such as Vondrasek’s statement that the project plan prepared by Hord Coplan Macht only cost the city a couple hundred dollars at most.

“Coplan Macht won’t open their door for $100!” someone cracked, as the room erupted. (The existence of a detailed proposal with sketches and maps, coming before neighborhood groups were consulted, has left a sour taste with many and helped fuel opposition.)

(Photo by Fern Shen)

“Don’t pave paradise and put up a parking lot,” the sign says. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Some officials got applause. The crowd cheered loudly for City Councilman James B. Kraft, whose office organized the hearing and is planning three others.

“This has nothing to do with the usage of the Casino,’ Kraft said, urging the crowd to stay focused on whether the plan means “the entry of one more car into Patterson Park.”

“No more cars in Patterson Park!” he said, to the roar of approval from the audience.

Kraft said City Council president Bernard C. “Jack” Young sent his support and noted the presence of other supporters in the room: State Sen. Bill Ferguson and State Del. Luke Clippinger were also there. Delegate Brian McHale was also mentioned.

Parents and children attended the hearing. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Parents and children attended the hearing. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Absences were noted as well.

“Where’s [City Councilman] Warren Branch?” someone shouted.

Even more frequently, people in the crowd noted the absence of the city’s top official.

“Where’s the mayor?” was a repeated refrain.

So far, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has left the substantive comments on the project to Vondrasek and Barbot, though she did lash out last week at Kraft, saying that by disclosing the plan to citizens too early he had “poisoned the well.”

the seats were take, so some sat on the floor. (Photo by Fern Shen)

All the seats were taken, so some sat on the floor. (Photo by Fern Shen)

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  • Steve

    I lived in Butchers Hill for11 years and moved out just as the boom was starting.around 2000. Even then parking was a issue around Patterson Park. Now it’s insane. If there are going to be expanded services, especially for seniors, then some type of accomodation needs to be made.  Whether 96 spaces are necessary is debatable. But I can tell you there is little or no parking available around the park for staff  or those that truly need transportation to get to the center. How many of those same people that showed up last night would do the same in bad weather?

    Point is there is surely a reasonable compromise that can serve the needs of the center and local citizens.

    • Jeri

      Steve – There is parking on the park. It is the city and any where in the city parking is a premium.  Federal Hill, Canton, Fells Point, Mount Vernon, Charles Village have worst conditions then we do. The Linwood area has the most parking due to the 2 parks coming together. In fact the Park’s Master Plan developed in 1997 proposed one way with diagonal parking.
      At the meeting the question of why Patterson Park only for the Highlandtown seniors was left unanswered. There are empty buildings. There are rowhomes that can be converted and diagonal parking created. The Hatton Center has only street parking and that is in Canton. Why take the ‘real green’ and ruin it with a wide set of additional roads. It would entail cutting down 100 year old trees. Of coarse the mayor has no problem cutting down trees as she did for the Indy Races. They cannot control the traffic in the park now. The Parks Dept commented last night they only have 1 committed ranger for the entire Patterson Park. He currently does not have anything to write a ticket. Hopefully in the future they hope to have the same units as the Parking ticket writers coming. So how would they be able to control 96 cars. People will just get frustrated with waiting to get out of the busy Luzerne / Baltimore intersection and just cut through the park.  The grass has car marks on it all the time in the park where people do just that.

    • Jtrueman

      Compromise ok but no more cars in the park.

    • Mike Wolf

      Steve:

      is there no parking, yes, do I not drive me car and ride my bike for this reason yes.  Do my elderly neighbors petition to the city for handicap spots yes, do they drive tot he park… no… they walk.   The simple fact is, this neighborhood is a real urban space, that needs and has a real urban park.   Which should be supported by real urban planning.

      • Steve

        Not debating that Patterson Park is not a wonderful asset. I spent much of my time in Butchers Hill working to improve the neighboorhood. I was planting trees all through BH in the 90′s long before the boom.

        It’s great that you are able to accomplish your needs without a vehicle. However, there are many people that do not live around the park that use the park. Not all those people playing in leagues on the ball fields, or using the ice rink live within walking distance to the park. Patterson Park is a city park open to all city residents and not just those that life around it. So, some accomodations need to be made.

        Point is it seems that many of the folks commenting come across like the kid that doesn’t want to share their toys with anyone else. I completely understand the concerns but it isn’t all about them.

  • GXWalsh

    The mayor just tweeted that she ordered Parks and Health Department to back off and form a new Master Plan Working Group. That’s a good first step.

    • Jtrueman

      I disagree – it is intended to get us to compromise. There is no point to having a working group when we have been clear – no more cars.

  • Bmorepanic

    Thanks again for your wonderful reporting.

    I do so love the phrase “poison the well”.  If that is what truth is called, what does her honor do with “the truth shall set you free”?    Oh wait, it must refer to Ryan talking about how the water bill system is all fixed up now and da phones only cost $20k instead of roughly $933k ;)

    • iCounsel

      Don’t forget about the brother, Damien, of KO Strategies who often manipulates the Op/Ed pages of the Sun paper to bolster Ryan’s position.  It’s a twisted landscape.

      • Kim Trueheart

        Mayor Rawlings-Blake is replacing the entire Rec & Parks Board on Oct. 17th and the K of KO Public Affairs, Stephen J. Kearney, has been nominated to be a new board member.  According to his nomination papers he is interested in this Board because:  “I believe that we can do much more for Baltimore parks & recreation by taking a more entreprenuereal approach”.  Sounds a lot like Mr. Kearney wants to sell the farm … Just need to see who the buyers will be and what ties they have with KO.

  • Bmorepanic

    More seriously, keep looking at Central Park for inspiration.  Urban parks link to the transportation network, not individual vehicles.  They rely on drop off points at the perimeter so the most land is available for assorted forms of recreation – including simple walks in relative peace and quiet.  And, in Central Park, they close the interior park roads to all vehicles during mid-day, evenings and weekends.

    Remember that people at the Booth center currently don’t have any parking spaces.  If our seniors come to a new center that is in the interior of the park, it will not be accessible from public transportation without a sizable walk.  One would think that a shuttle bus using the existing drop off could be funded from the savings of not building all of the parking and new roads.   Or combine it with some of the “free” bus system money for a devoted shuttle.  It would lessen the numbers of vehicles in the park and the amount of paving required would drop to none.

    But mainly, I object to creating a magnet senior center in a building that requires a system of roads and parking that only benefits wealthier-healthier people while poorer or infirm folks who rely on public transportation get left out.

    I don’t think the Parks department has thought out how treacherous those roads and parking spaces will become during events, nor has any source of funding been identified for reducing the pavement footprint in the rest of the park and thought isn’t given to restoring landscaping if the path reductions are completed.  That add-on seems to be devious retrenching.

  • Eastcoastsunshine

    maybe additional parking is needed for I don’t know maybe a casino? It might be overflow, you know walk to get fleeced by the casino, can’t pay for the parking because the casino got your money, so you have to walk back to your car…

  • Mark Adams

    The answer is simple. Use the Casino building for the expanded activities of the Rec Center. That way, they won’t need a “multi-million dollar” makeover. Let the Health Department find another location for its activities. The Health Department didn’t belong in the park in the first place.

  • http://twitter.com/wallywhat Wally Pinkard

    What if they just got rid of sidewalks around the park and made parking reverse angle around the park? That would make many spaces without to much loss as long as they do not get rid of any mature trees.

  • Anthonybubbagreen91

    On May 5, 2006, in Baltimore, Maryland while 14-year-old
    Deanna Camille was playing softball, in Druid Hill Park she was electrocuted by
    277 volts when she touched a fence connected to a buried power line. In the
    wake of that tragedy, Deanna’s parents have relentlessly sought to bring
    attention to this largely ignored issue. That happens because they wanted to
    change things in Druid Hill Park. The first thing the City needs to do make
    sure that all underground wires are safe before they start to dig around, and I
    am not talking about Miss Utility The Deanna Camille Green Act of 2012 that
    calls for BG&E and the City to do testing that is mandated by law to what
    can cause contact voltage, is when the ground is disturb.  . The Green family attended NBCSL’s 35th
    Annual Legislative Conference in Chicago, Illinois to raise awareness; we have
    traveled the country petitioning lawmakers to take action.

    Anthony “Bubba” Green former Baltimore Colt, and his wife
    Nancy Arrington-Green worked with state officials in Maryland to implement
    regulation that would target potentially high-risk areas. The Green family,
    however, would not settle for a regulation they believed did not go far enough.
    The family continued to push for additional regulation, and the Maryland
    legislature passed a bill, which was the first of its kind at the state level,
    that is now a Maryland State Law, to survey all recreational parks in the
    state.

    Title – House Bill 520, Electric Companies – Contact Voltage
    - Surveys and Mitigation – The Deanna Camille Green Act of 2012

    Summary – The bill requires certain electric companies to
    file with the Public Service Commission for approval of a list of, or voltage
    survey plan for, newly created contact voltage risk zones on or before
    September 1, 2012. The bill also requires an electric company to conduct
    surveys of objects and surfaces, such as streetlights or lampposts, which are
    within contact voltage risk zones. Is Patterson Park on the List check and see.

  • http://twitter.com/janjamm jan angevine

    It is as if our seniors are being used by Recs & Park to justify a $3 million expansion of the rec center. I find it hard to believe that there is no other location in the community for a seniors program, a location that has some parking, access and more convenient transportation/shutle. And what about our churches? They sit empty throughout the day. I don’t understand why our local churches aren’t more responsive to providing space for programs. The income, assuming the city pays for rent &insurance, could help the churches as well. I couldn’t get a sense of how many seniors the program currently serves. Does anyone know? In these hard times for our city, we should be re-imagining the use of our resources and dwindling funds. $3 million on a rec center in these times seems extravagant.

  • Ppassit

    The Baltimore Sun article is horrible……  this article depics what actually happened

  • Phyllis

    Out of curiosity, I did a count of the buildings on the perimeter of Patterson Park. 483 buildings. A handful are businesses, but most of them occupied by more than one resident. So that’s at least a thousand potential park users literally within steps of the park. And no garages. Are they going to drive to the park? Hell no. Nor will the people whose houses back up to their houses (another 483 buildings), and on out for blocks and blocks. 

    Now compare that to Cylburn, bounded on one side by I-83, surrounded by neighborhoods of houses with green lawns and driveways with lots of street parking. Sure, it’s technically in the city, but the lifestyle definitely swings suburban. Will they drive? Sure, why not? It’s easier to drive than to walk. They have no objection to paving over green space because they have it in their front and back yards. Not to mention the park is completely inaccessible from most directions because they’ve walled it off with roads. You’d be crazy to let your kids go there on foot the way the cars speed around there!

    Patterson Park is OUR backyard. Just 137 acres vs. Cylburn’s 207 and they have a fraction of the population density. Comparing Cylburn’s needs to is a completely inappropriate comparison. The mayor, Dr. Barbot, and Mr. Vondrasek need to get out of their cars and see how city people live before they start making decisions based on a suburban perception of transportation and park usage.

  • leewatkins

    It was immediately obvious that none of these officials (other than Kraft) actually live in the city the way we do, or understand the lifestyles of most city residents.   1/3 of city residents don’t even need to own a car, and the majority of residents that do have cars either never use them, or very rarely.  Those figures would be considerably higher if we had a more extensive subway like DC, or a streetcar network like we did pre-war.  Extending the subway one stop at a time, or doing a stretch of streetcar track from the existing rail network would not require the waiting period of the ardous federal grant process.  City officials simply lack the vision for projects that are not automobile-oriented because they all live out in the suburbs.  They don’t share in the urban lifestyle of the residents they dictate to.  That is the root of the problem – a city run by people who want it to be a suburb.  If it were not for the commitment of residents to make the park a pedestrian destination, the park greens would still be in shambles, and the rest of the buildings would probably be burned down and condmned by now.
     
    There are huge vacant buildings all over they city they don’t know what to do with.  Massive vacant building downtown, right next to parking garages, and tens of thousands of smaller vacants, getting leveled on a yearly basis.   They like the park because it’s pretty, and we made it a safe place to hang out.  Well how did that happen?  They fail to think about why they like the site so much – because it’s not so paved over.  Because it’s not dominated by cars.  Because it’s surrounded by residents who are always walking everywhere, dog on a leash.   The problem with cars is they destroy the destination.  And the appeal of Patterson Park is that residents have made it an ideal destination by way of their lifestyles and comittment.   The fact that it is not paved or designed for cars is precisely what makes it a great destination, and the resulting beauty is what made it appealing to the city as a senior site..  Our suburban authorities are blind to these simple truths that residents are so familiar with.  Delusionally, city authorities want to make Patterson more like the other parks.  and more like the suburbs.  When we know they should be doing exactly the opposite.  They should be increasing residential density around parks and reducing the presence of automobiles and pavement, making them more pedestrian-residential.  The residents who walk to the park almost everyday and rarely drive, if ever, are responsible for the state the park is in today. 
     
    Residential density and transportation lifestyles has a stronger correlation with a person’s place on the political spectrum and political outlook than any other factor.  The fact that our city authorities live in a different residential density area, and utilize different transportation options, results in an inevitably overwhelming political disconnect.   This meeting was more about that basic and overwhelming political disconnect than anything else.   It is not the use of the buildings, but rather the presence or more cars driving and parking the residents are adamendtly opposed to.  Although the historic aspects of buildings and park layout adds another dimension.   I am not opposed to people walking, riding bikes, taking the bus or subway/streetcar to get here and use the historic buildings and green space.  What I am opposed to is addidional cars and parking spaces in the park that seems a mandatory way that suburban-minded officals want to plan these developments.  

    • Steve

      Well. that was a mouthfull. Most city residents that own cars don’t use them or use them very little. Not sure where you get that from. From what I heard on NPR this morning it sounded like Mr Kraft grabbed a rough proposal and ran with it. He would not be the first politician to take a issue to raise his profile with his constituents. However, I am sure that is not the case here.

      All of this venom spewing and unwillingness to come up with a reasonable compromise seems to be the way things work today. It’s a shame that some adults act like petulant children.

      • Julie

         It’s “mouthful” not “mouthfull”. But, anyway that is incorrect about Kraft. If the city cared at all about what the neighborhood wants, they would have consulted the Friends of Patterson Park along with the neighborhood associations. They did not.

        There are already 30 or so spaces in the park at the casino and the rec center. Plenty for staff. And, the new spaces would only be for those two buildings.

        It would not offset the neighborhood parking issues caused by BSSC, KLOB, high school softball and baseball teams, the many people who will be attending the new football/baseball stadium being built in the park, the pool, or the ice arena. I support all of those things, but I also recognize that 96 spaces at 2 buildings and the “new loops” don’t even touch the other areas that are actually being used all the time.

        So, the new spaces and the loops won’t help alleviate any parking problems we currently have.

        Based on your previous statements, you no longer live in the Patterson
        Park area. If someone planned to put a road abutting your backyard for
        poorly supported reasons, you would have a problem as well.

      • GXWalsh

        It’s not so much venom spewing as just plain disappointment in the city agencies and the lack of a 10,000 ft view. What the city “proposed” or “sketched on the back of an envelope” doesn’t take the next 100 yards around the park into consideration nor does it address some bigger issues that we have the opportunity to look at now.

  • Park Lover

    Bill Vondrasek just said on WYPR that according to the master plan for the park the city can control traffic.  He is referring to Clyburn Arborteum again.  Does he not get that 500 people at the meeting and 5,500 petition signers do not want ANY traffic or paving in the park?

  • leewatkins

    There are folks who think that nearly everyone who owns a car in Baltimore automatically drives everywhere, no matter how stupidly short a distance that would often be, or no matter how long you’d wait in traffic, how much you’d have to pay when you get there to park, or how long you’d have to circle to finally get a spot.  In reality, people are not all that silly.  If you are in disbelief, check census records and other publicly available data.  And also I actually live here, so I can see that yes, people really do actually own cars, but walk to work or the store, etc., or ride their bike or take the bus/light rail instead because it’s right down the street walking distance, or because they don’t actually want to deal with paying for parking when they get there or risk circling around for 15-20 min looking for a parking spot (and maybe never find one).  In a lot of cases driving is not worth the hassle and something else might be cheaper, easier, faster, or all of the above.  Believe it or not, there are people that actually move to the city because they LIKE being able to walk right down the street to get somewhere, or ride their bike for 15 minutes to get to work on the other side of town, if they feel like it.  or maybe they just don’t feel like driving today, they just want to stand there and get picked up or easily flag down that taxi after a night out at the bar with some friends.  and so on.   And there are a lot of folks that may have a registered vehicle to their name, but don’t necessarily have the budget to shell out for gas money and repairs on a regular basis, let alone afford risking parking tickets, towing charges, tolls, etc., so instead they move to an urban area where they don’t have to drive.  

    Kraft saw this plan and was outraged, for the same reason as everyone else who lives here.  The idea that Kraft poisoned the well is frankly, delusional or very out of touch with the way most people here actually live, and misses the point about why people even live in the city.  Not a good way for a mayor of a city to be presenting herself – ditto for the other city authorities behind this proposal.  The reality is this reaction was inevitable, and Kraft knew it would be even more severe the longer the public was left in the dark.  Besides, it’s his JOB to keep the community informed and promote an inclusive dialogue, and he’s keeping that trust strong. 

    Allowing cars in the park is not a bright idea.  Compromise means attempting to meet the needs of the other party, rather than just our own needs.  It does not necessarily mean doing any of it the way the other party has proposed.   Certain people need to get to a type of facility somewhere, and there is money to pay for a project.  How many vacant building are there in this city?  I can name several large ones just down on eastern Ave. walking distance, and I’m not in real estate or anything.  Downtown they have a vacancy rate, what about that?  Whole sections of the city are basically vacant.  There are many places that facility could be put, and there are many different ways to get from point a to point b in a city.  There is a lot of room for creativity.  We have tons of locations to choose from, and many different transportation options.  The park is not a very good location for a big senior development, for various reasons.  The park is ideal for pedestrians and bikes.  Driving to the park is generally not ideal, and making it more ideal makes the park itself less ideal in the process.  So not a bright idea.  Lets try accomplish this without screwing up one of the few things in this city that actually looks good and works really well.  I could come up with a dozen completely different ideas just sitting here, and most of them couldn’t possibly be any worse than the current proposal.  

  • Scott

    Steve –

    I think the community is flexible, willing to consider all proposals and recognizes that the Park is for everyone – young, old, those that drive and those that don’t.  The problem is two fold:  1st – no one in the city asked for community input before putting in place a plan to put in 96 parking spaces.  The City was the one who was not willing to compromise.  They wanted to just ram the plan through; 2nd – Installing a road and 96 parking spaces dimishes the ability for everyone to use the Park.  Vehicle traffic in the park has been a persistent problem for years.  Adding spaces inside the park will only increase that problem exponentially.

    I suspect the working group that is being set up will be discussing all kinds of different proposals and accomodations for both those who live near the park and those that don’t, but protecting the unique aspects of Patterson Park is critical. 

    • Steve

      Agreed. Patterson Park is a jewel in the city. I also agree that adding 96 parking spaces is not a good idea.It should prove intresting to see what alternatives are developed. Problem is the community does not seem willing to listen to any proposal that permits vehicles or parking for any reason and that close minded thinking is not productive.

  • Cwals99

    I think Kim Truehart has unleashed the true intentions here.  The
    business approach to parks and recreation is yet another move to
    privatize public assets as is what is happening to Patterson Park.  No
    doubt they will attach a corporate name to what is left of the
    park…..Carlyle Group Field perhaps just as they are doing in Dundalk
    with the athletic parks being assigned to Exelon and UnderAmour
    development.

    What we need to know is that these incumbents will give all public
    service and assets to private concerns rather than taxing these
    corporations so the government coffers can finance public land.  If you
    think selling advertizing on Fire Trucks or Athletic Stadiums are just
    one step……think again.  Look at Johns Hopkins LaCrosse Museum, or
    should I say Cordish LaCrosse Museum.  Really folks, this is all too
    ugly.

    Rawlings-Blake knows that recovering billions of dollars of business
    fraud over this past decade and bringing it back to the city will more
    than pay for all public support and development.

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