After months of public debate and behind-the-scenes lobbying, the $660 million Port Covington TIF tax increment financing deal became official today when Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake signed three bills enabling it.
“Finally, the day has arrived – and I say, finally,” Rawlings-Blake said at a City Hall signing ceremony.
“Was that an exhale I heard?” she quipped, turning to the throng of city lawmakers in attendance, along with officials from surrounding communities and from the Sagamore Development Co., the real estate arm for Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.
Plank’s plan for a mixed-use development comprised of shops, hotels, restaurants and apartments on a 260-acre waterfront peninsula will be “one of the most significant development milestones in Baltimore’s modern history,” the mayor said.
“We are setting the stage for a stronger Baltimore. We are mobilizing our resources to build hope, to build opportunity and equity for all of our residents,” Rawlings-Blake said.
“Port Covington,” she added, “will be a catalytic project, creating new jobs, and job training opportunities as well as supporting minority and women-owned businesses and affordable housing.”
The benefits she described were at the core of the controversy that raged over the past six months as Sagamore Development sought TIF funds for the project’s infrastructure at a level that dwarfed all previous public subsidies granted for Baltimore developments.
Observers describe it as among the largest such financing subsides ever granted anywhere in the nation.
Critics charged that the project would worsen racial segregation and inequality in a city that exploded last year with protests and a riot following the death in police custody of a 25-year-old West Baltimore man, Freddie Gray.
City officials said agreements negotiated with six predominantly African-American neighborhoods and faith group BUILD will eventually translate to more than $100 million of community benefits citywide and will provide unprecedented job training.
A coalition of labor unions, housing advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union and others said the agreements were riddled with loopholes and would not prevent the development from becoming an upscale predominately white district.
The complex financing that undergirds the deal also attracted attention, with an outside consultant and others saying the TIF was poorly structured and based on overly rosy projections.
As some members acknowledged they had not read the agreements, the City Council last week cast the final vote to move the project forward, saying they had faith in the Under Armour founder.
Decades to Complete
The legislation signed by the mayor today starts a 30-year cycle of construction – and the prospect of 40 years of bond payments – that Plank and his associates plan in order to erect their mini-city.
Rawlings-Blake understated those time commitments in her remarks, but expressed the overall sentiment of City Hall by saying that Port Covington would be providing benefits “long after I’m gone.”
“For the next 20 years,” she said, “we will be part of making an underutilized area of Baltimore into a thriving, inclusive community as well as an economic center.”