With critics calling the huge waterfront development project her administration is backing in South Baltimore financially shaky and likely to worsen segregation and inequality, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had a chance yesterday to respond at length.
WYPR’s Tom Hall had Rawlings-Blake on Maryland Morning for an hour and among the questions he asked were several about Port Covington – a decades long redevelopment proposal which is seeking public subsidies including $660 million in (TIF) Tax Increment Financing from the city.
Here are the mayor’s responses to some of the questions from Hall:
On the critics who say the deal was poorly vetted and that “estimates about what the thing is going to cost are not accurate:”
“We are at a time in Baltimore where the tide is turning. You see cranes and development not just in downtown Baltimore but out in the community. We’ve seen the most significant effort in my time in dealing with and eliminating blight in vacant homes in Vacants to Value.
And despite what some Republican candidates would say about Baltimore, people are voting with their feet and millennials are moving to Baltimore in record numbers. We’re one of the top destinations for millennials, one of the highest concentrations of millennials in the country which speaks not just to where we are today but where this next generation of Americans believes Baltimore will be in the future and I’m going to do everything in my power while I’m mayor to take advantage of that.
And Port Covington is an amazing opportunity for Baltimore. It’s an amazing opportunity for job creation, for community building. To stabilize one of the fastest-growing companies in the world with Under Armour and to make sure that they continue to have a headquarters here. When cities around the country take a look at the pushback that some in the community are giving to this development they’re salivating, they would love to have Under Armour to invest billions in their community.
On whether “any of that push-back [is] legitimate:”
“They can feel what they want to feel – it doesn’t change the fact it has been vetted. It’s been vetted by the Board of Finance, by the Baltimore Development Corporation. It has has been even vetted – the City Council has been able to hear and ask questions of the developer to the extent that they wanted to hear from the Baltimore Development . . .”
On the takeaway from cost overruns at the TIF-funded Harbor Point project. The city recently “had to triple the amount of money that we are going to float in bonds for that project because the estimate that was originally approved just turned out to be well short of what it actually cost. What’s to say that’s not going to happen in a development like Port Covington which is exponentially more expensive?”
“Well we’re floating it in the same way which means that what we’re doing is providing a roadmap and a pathway using the tools that we have to encourage development.
None of this development happens in challenged communities without public support. There are many places around the country that will build infrastructure and hope that development will come. Baltimore is not one of those places.
And if we think that we’re going to get the type of transformational development that I want to see in Baltimore without using all of the tools in our toolbox we’re fooling ourselves.”
On the project developer, Sagamore Development, agreeing to a goal to “strive” to make 10% of the houses affordable. “BUILD and others are saying why don’t we make it 20% requirement” Hall asked. “There are folks who say, if we’re going to be greasing the wheel helping these developers make these large multi-billion-dollar projects we ought to be getting something.”
“If you take a look at the agreements around Port Covington and Sagamore we have solid agreements -for workforce development, for affordable housing, for community development in and around the project. I’m very, very proud of the agreements that have been put in place.Not just by my administration but also the agreements that have been put in place by the community.
And I know that as a result of this project, not only will we see a significant boost to Baltimore’s economy but we will see [an] increase in affordable housing, we will see a further reduction in unemployment and more job opportunities for Baltimore residents and that happens when you negotiate in reality and understand economics, the economics of development and do so in a way that allows for significant development to move forward.
That’s how we were able to make the casino happen and they were able to go above and beyond their hiring requirements. We’ve been able to – I was just at a park over the weekend that was – the funding for the community park and the equipment was funded with the gap, with money from the casino. These things don’t happen without the development and that’s what I’m going to continue to push for.”