Plank project deal is near

Elaine Har­mon, a Bal­ti­more na­tive who flew with the Women Air­force Ser­vice Pi­lots, now rests at Ar­ling­ton City of­fi­cials, Port Covington de­vel­oper agree on ben­e­fits

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Yvonne Wenger

City of­fi­cials say they have reached an ex­ten­sive com­mu­nity ben­e­fits agree­ment with the de­vel­oper of the mas­sive Port Covington project, dou­bling the amount of hous­ing for lower-in­come peo­ple that was orig­i­nally pro­posed, and re­quir­ing that more lo­cal work­ers be hired.

Coun­cil­man Carl Stokes said Wed­nes­day that the agree­ment clears the way for the City Coun­cil com­mit­tee he leads to sign off on a pub­lic fi­nanc­ing pack­age for the de­vel­op­ment as early as to­day.

The deal would al­low Un­der Ar­mour CEO Kevin Plank’s Sag­amore De­vel­op­ment Co. to use $660 mil­lion in tax­payer-backed bonds to pay for roads, parks, util­i­ties and other in­fra­struc­ture.

“We have some­thing here that is very strong, and a re­la­tion­ship that bodes well for the project to stay on track for the next two or three decades,” Stokes said. “There is a fair amount of ex­cite­ment around it.”

Stokes is chair­man of the coun­cil’s Tax­a­tion, Fi­nance and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee, which is vet­ting the deal. He told The Bal­ti­more Sun on Wed­nes­day that Sag­amore has agreed to make 20 per­cent of the hous­ing in the South Bal­ti­more de­vel­op­ment af­ford­able for lower-in­come fam­i­lies, up from a pre­vi­ous goal of 10 per­cent.

The com­mu­nity ben­e­fits agree­ment, billed as the largest in Bal­ti­more’s his­tory, is to be an­nounced to­day in Port Covington.

Stokes’ com­mit­tee is set to meet later to­day to vote on the leg­is­la­tion to al­low pub­lic fi­nanc­ing. If the panel ap­proves it, the full City Coun­cil could take its first vote on it Mon­day.

The ben­e­fits agree­ment would be sub­ject to the ap­proval of the city’s spend­ing panel, which is con­trolled by Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake. It re­quires the sig­na­tures of the mayor, Sag­amore and the City Coun­cil.

Sag­amore de­clined to com­ment on the terms of the agree­ment, pend­ing to­day’s an­nounce­ment. Rawl­ings-Blake also did not com­ment.

Stokes said the agree­ment en­sures that a quar­ter of the money in­volved in the tax-in­cre­ment-fi­nanc­ing deal will come back to the com­mu­nity in di­rect ben­e­fits. He praised Sag­amore and Plank for ne­go­ti­at­ing in good faith.

The sprawl­ing $5.5 bil­lion re­de­vel­op­ment project could in­clude of­fices, stores, light man­u­fac­tur­ing and 7,500 homes, most of them rentals, on the largely in­dus­trial penin­sula south of In­ter­state 95. The cam­pus would also be the new home for Un­der Ar­mour.

Stokes said the agree­ment re­quires Sag­amore to em­ploy a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of city res­i­dents.

More than half of the peo­ple hired for the con­struc­tion, de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing work on the site would have to come from Bal­ti­more, Stokes said. He said Sag­amore pledges to ad­vo­cate for all busi­nesses even­tu­ally op­er­at­ing at Port Covington to hire about a third of their work­ers from the city.

The agree­ment em­pha­sizes hir­ing mi­nor­ity- and women-owned busi­nesses, of­fi­cials said.

Sag­amore has agreed to pro­vide $25 mil­lion for a work­force de­vel­op­ment cen­ter, train­ing and low-in­ter­est and noin­t­er­est busi­ness loans, Stokes said. To strengthen the city work­force, of­fi­cials said, at least 12 per­cent of all la­bor hours on the project will be given to con­struc­tion ap­pren­tices.

Of­fi­cials have agreed to pay trade work­ers on the project’s in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion a min­i­mum of more than $23 per hour, in­clud­ing wages and ben­e­fits, of­fi­cials said.

Whether Stokes’ com­mit­tee votes to sign off on the fi­nanc­ing deal de­pends partly on how soon city lawyers agree to the tech­ni­cal lan­guage, he said.

Clergy from Bal­ti­more­ans United in Lead­er­ship De­vel­op­ment were a party to in­tense ne­go­ti­a­tions that stretched over the last 10 days.

The Rev. An­drew Fos­ter Con­nors, who co-chairs BUILD, said the agree­ment will “play a key role in bridg­ing” some of the in­equities in the city by pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to more res­i­dents through train­ing, hir­ing and af­ford­able hous­ing.

“We be­lieve it’s a his­toric deal that is go­ing to change the paradigm for how de­vel­op­ment hap­pens in Bal­ti­more,” said Fos­ter Con­nors of Brown Memo­rial Park Av­enue Pres­by­te­rian Church. “This deal truly moves from what were promises and goals to man­dates that have real teeth.”

Charly Carter, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Mary­land Work­ing Fam­i­lies, said the deal ap­pears bet­ter than the city’s ini­tial agree­ment with the de­vel­oper but does not go far enough.

Carter co-chairs Peo­ple Or­ga­nized for Re­spon­si­ble Trans­for­ma­tion, Tax Sub­si­dies and TIFs. The group wants Sag­amore to com­mit to mak­ing af­ford­able hous­ing ac­ces­si­ble to min­i­mum-wage work­ers and pro­vide guar­an­tees for non-con­struc­tion and pri­vate con­struc­tion jobs.

Carter said the City Coun­cil should hold off on vot­ing un­til some is­sues, such as how to han­dle the po­ten­tial im­pact on fund­ing for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, are re­solved.

State aid to lo­cal school dis­tricts goes down as lo­cal tax rev­enues rise, as they are ex­pected to do as Port Covington is de­vel­oped. But the in­crease from Port Covington won’t ini­tially go to the city — it will be used to re­pay the $660 mil­lion in city-backed bonds.

Carter was part of the group in­volved in weeks of ne­go­ti­a­tions that she said cul­mi­nated last week when Sag­amore pre­sented a fi­nal of­fer and asked ac­tivist groups to en­dorse it.

“We just felt like we could not in good con­science go back to our con­stituen­cies and say this was the best we could do for them,” she said. She said she had not seen the deal to be an­nounced to­day.

Stokes said of­fi­cials con­tinue to push Sag­amore for an agree­ment to share any prof­its from the sale of land once new in­fra­struc­ture, such as roads and wa­ter lines, is built.

Of­fi­cials also want the com­pany to off­set any loss in state ed­u­ca­tion aid.

It is un­clear whether those is­sues will be re­solved be­fore the com­mit­tee’s po­ten­tial vote to­day.

Stokes said the com­mu­nity ben­e­fits agree­ment is bet­ter than any the city has had in the past. The coun­cil­man has been a critic of pub­lic sub­si­dies for large de­vel­op­ments; he launched a vo­cal fight against tax breaks for the wa­ter­front Har­bor Point project, and op­posed $107 mil­lion in bonds for that de­vel­op­ment’s in­fra­struc­ture. He said it did lit­tle to ben­e­fit Bal­ti­more neigh­bor­hoods.

On Wed­nes­day, he praised the Sag­amore agree­ment: “What we have agreed to so far is go­ing to be pretty good.”

Plank urged sup­port for the project in an open let­ter pub­lished as a full-page ad­ver­tise­ment in Wed­nes­day’s edi­tions of The Bal­ti­more Sun. Plank said the de­vel­oper would com­mit more than $100 mil­lion to fund recre­ation cen­ters, higher wages, job train­ing, schools and parks in Bal­ti­more.

“We are at a de­ci­sion point,” Plank wrote. “We want to in­vest in Bal­ti­more, hire in Bal­ti­more, live in Bal­ti­more, and give in Bal­ti­more. I hope that you agree that we have a spe­cial op­por­tu­nity here. I hope that the City Coun­cil will re­view and ap­prove the TIF, to make this all pos­si­ble for our city.”

Also Wed­nes­day, Plank’s char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Cupid Foun­da­tion, pre­sented a $1 mil­lion do­na­tion to help the Arch­dio­cese of Bal­ti­more fund schol­ar­ships for 100 city stu­dents to at­tend Catholic schools.

City Coun­cil­man Eric Costello, who was present for much of the com­mu­nity ben­e­fit agree­ment ne­go­ti­a­tions, de­clined to com­ment on the specifics of the agree­ment. But he said he is op­ti­mistic that the Port Covington project will ad­vance.

“I’m very ex­cited about the project,” he said.

“I’m just hope­ful that it can move for­ward after what’s been very ex­ten­sive ne­go­ti­a­tions with a pretty wide va­ri­ety of stake­hold­ers.”

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