Another month, another closed-door meeting at the Baltimore Development Corporation.
At the beginning of the BDC’s September meeting today, President and CEO William H. Cole IV announced that the quasi-public agency, which promotes downtown and economic development, has a new “social media” presence in the form of a Facebook page and a Twitter feed.
Cole, a former City Councilman who became head of the BDC slightly more than a year ago, said he wants to do more to “get the word out” about the many positive business and redevelopment projects that are underway in the city but don’t receive much attention or media coverage.
He said he hoped the reporters present would help BDC spread the word about the good things happening in Baltimore.
A few minutes later, the BDC board kicked the three reporters in the room out of the meeting, saying it was closed to the public.
The board cited a provision in the state’s Open Meetings law that permits public meetings to be closed when the discussion involves financial details of a proprietary nature.
For the next hour, the door remained shut.
When the doors reopened, the meeting had adjourned, and no one from BDC would say exactly what was discussed or what was decided. (There’s usually a private memorandum forwarded to the mayor after the meeting with the group’s recommendations.)
A $17 million “TIF”
It wouldn’t be the first time such a shut-out occurred at the agency.
This much is on the record based on information presented to the board – before The Brew was booted out today.
The subject of the discussion would be a $114 million laboratory and office building planned for the University of Maryland BioPark on the west side of downtown, and a plan for building it with Tax Increment Financing (TIF).
The eight-story, 250,000-square-foot building is planned for a parcel at 873 West Baltimore Street and would be developed by Wexford Science + Technology, which owns the land. It would contain research laboratories, office space and “incubator space” for multiple tenants.
CIC, formerly known as Cambridge Innovation Center, has agreed to occupy more than 100,000 square feet. It would be CIC’s first project in Baltimore.
The University of Maryland BioPark has requested city approval of a $17 million TIF to help fund the project.
A TIF is a funding tool used by cities to leverage public and private investment in targeted areas. Funds are often used to build and repair roads and infrastructure or clean up polluted property.
Subsidy for Interior of One Building
What makes this project unusual is that a TIF district would be created for just the one building at 873 West Baltimore Street, as opposed to the larger multi-building districts that have received TIF financing elsewhere in Baltimore, such as Michael Beatty’s Harbor Point.
In addition, the funds would be used specifically to build portions of the building’s interior, rather than the exterior. And it would be part of a state designated “RISE” zone, a new kind of Enterprise zone for institutions and government-related non profits.
If approved, the project would be the BioPark’s third commercial laboratory and office building, according to the BioPark’s website.
It would be the first project in Baltimore to be built under the RISE program, which began in 2014. RISE stands for Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise. College Park is another state jurisdiction working to build a project under the new RISE zone designation.
Under the RISE legislation, each jurisdiction in the state can have a maximum of three RISE zones.
A Reporter’s Questions
Which raises a number of questions this reporter was eager to ask members of the board:
• Is it sensible for Baltimore to make 873 West Baltimore Street one of them, when it’s only one building?
• Is this project the right fit for a TIF package and the RISE program?
• Could it be funded without the TIF?
• Would its construction adversely affect other business incubators in the city, such the Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins in East Baltimore?
“We can’t discuss any of that” in public, a BDC representative said after the doors reopened.
“That’s why,” she further explained, “we closed the meeting.”