Stokes de­lays vote on ac­cord

$660 mil­lion in bonds for Port Cov­ing­ton, ben­e­fits deal in limbo

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter

A City Coun­cil com­mit­tee un­ex­pect­edly stopped short Thurs­day night of ap­prov­ing $660 mil­lion in bonds for the Port Cov­ing­ton de­vel­op­ment, hours af­ter the de­vel­oper an­nounced a $100 mil­lion com­mu­nity ben­e­fits agree­ment with city of­fi­cials and ac­tivists.

The agree­ment was ex­pected to en­sure pas­sage of the pub­lic fi­nanc­ing plan, which would be used to pay for project in­fra­struc­ture. Sup­port­ers say the de­vel­op­ment would bring thou­sands of jobs to Bal­ti­more.

But af­ter ap­prov­ing two of three nec­es­sary bills, City Coun­cil­man Carl Stokes, chair­man of the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment com­mit­tee, abruptly called the meeting to a close with­out ex­pla­na­tion.

He later told re­porters he was con­cerned that the pub­lic had not had time to prop­erly re­view the com­mu­nity ben­e­fits deal. He also ex­pressed con­cern about pro­jec­tions that show that city schools would lose mil­lions of dol­lars in state fund­ing as a re­sult of the project, and wants stronger guar­an­tees that the de­vel­oper would cover such a loss.

“There is a pro­posed deal on the ta­ble; that doesn’t mean it can’t change,” Stokes said. He said he ad­journed the meeting sud­denly be­cause he sus­pected that other coun­cil mem­bers were at­tempt­ing to force the bills through.

“I got a lit­tle heated be­cause col­leagues of mine who dis­re­spected the process previ-

ously were about to do that again,” he said.

Other mem­bers of the com­mit­tee said they were sur­prised by Stokes’ ac­tion and could not ex­plain it. With­out pas­sage of the third bill, the Port Cov­ing­ton project is tem­po­rar­ily in limbo. Two of three bills passed with Stokes and coun­cil mem­bers He­len Holton and Ed Reisinger vot­ing in fa­vor and Bill Henry and Warren Branch ab­stain­ing.

Af­ter Stokes ended the meeting, he en­gaged in long con­ver­sa­tions with City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Bishop Dou­glas I. Miles of Bal­ti­more­ans United in Lead­er­ship De­vel­op­ment. Stokes said he would likely bring the third bill back for a vote next week.

Marc Weller, pres­i­dent of Sag­amore De­vel­op­ment, said he was sur­prised and dis­ap­pointed by Stokes’ de­ci­sion to re­cess with­out act­ing on all the pieces of the leg­is­la­tion.

“Through­out this process, we’ve been proud to en­gage in the pub­lic di­a­logue around Port Cov­ing­ton and hope that all can see how com­mit­ted we are to com­mu­nity part­ner­ships and in­vest­ing in the long-term fu­ture of Bal­ti­more City,” he said. “We’ve put for­ward an un­prece­dented and his­toric $100 mil­lion city­wide ben­e­fits agree­ment and have ne­go­ti­ated in good faith with all par­ties at ev­ery turn.”

The meeting came hours af­ter the an­nounce­ment of the ben­e­fits agree­ment. It was the re­sult of weeks of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Un­der Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s Sag­amore De­vel­op­ment Co., the Rawl­ingsBlake ad­min­is­tra­tion, key City Coun­cil mem­bers and the in­flu­en­tial com­mu­nity group BUILD — which had op­posed the project.

The deal — the largest of its kind in city his­tory — was un­veiled dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in South Bal­ti­more, where sup­port­ers hailed the agree­ment as an un­prece­dented step for a de­vel­oper who is seek­ing a sub­sidy from the city.

“It’s a new day in Bal­ti­more,” Miles said Thurs­day af­ter­noon. “To any de­vel­op­ers out there, when you come to the ta­ble now, come with your check­book ready.”

The com­mu­nity ben­e­fits agree­ment builds on an ex­ist­ing deal to pro­vide about $39 mil­lion to six South Bal­ti­more neigh­bor­hoods near Port Cov­ing­ton. Sag­amore also agreed to con­trib­ute $25 mil­lion for new work­force de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives and $10 mil­lion for no-in­ter­est loans or other fund­ing streams for mi­nor­ity- or womenowned startup busi­nesses.

The de­vel­op­ers also agreed to com­mit $6.5 mil­lion more to work­ers on the project so they can be paid a so-called “pre­vail­ing wage.”

Tom Ged­des, the CEO of Plank In­dus­tries, called the im­pact of the deal “trans­for­ma­tional.”

“What we are an­nounc­ing to­day is not big,” he said, “it’s huge.”

Sag­amore is seek­ing $660 mil­lion in bonds to pay for pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture in the $5.5 bil­lion Port Cov­ing­ton project. Un­der a deal called tax-in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing, the bonds would be re­paid through fu­ture taxes gen­er­ated by the de­vel­op­ment.

Young, who­had en­cour­aged the de­vel­op­ers to ne­go­ti­ate with in­ter­est groups, joined Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake in prais­ing the com­mu­nity ben­e­fits agree­ment as “his­toric.”

“In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing mean­ing­ful jobs, the ben­e­fits agree­ment pumps tens of mil­lions of dol­lars into pro­grams to sup­port work­force de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives, ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, col­lege schol­ar­ships and im­prove­ment to recre­ation Young said.

Rawl­ings-Blake called Sag­amore a “true part­ner” that would strengthen the lo­cal econ­omy, the work­force and the af­ford­able­hous­ing mar­ket.

Un­der the ben­e­fits deal, the de­vel­op­ers would ded­i­cate $35 mil­lion in land pur­chased by Sag­amore for use as pub­lic parks and open space. They would re­quire that at least 30 per­cent of all in­fra­struc­ture work be per­formed by city res­i­dents and at least 30 per­cent of all per­ma­nent jobs at the de­vel­op­ment go to city res­i­dents.

The deal also re­quires Sag­amore to com­mit to build­ing 20 per­cent of res­i­den­tial units as “af­ford­able hous­ing.” Most of those units must be built at Port Cov­ing­ton, but 40 per­cent may be built else­where.

Sag­amore also agreed not to re­quest the is­suance of any tax-in­cre­ment-fi­nanc­ing bonds if there is a pro­jected neg­a­tive im­pact on state fund­ing for Bal­ti­more schools. State law­mak­ers have said they will al­ter a for­mula that has cost the school sys­tem state money in re­cent years be­cause new city de­vel­op­ments have not im­me­di­ately paid taxes, as the for­mula ex­pects.

The tax-in­cre­ment-fi­nanc­ing deal still faces op­po­si­tion.

Labor union LiUNA led a rally of about 200 peo­ple at War Memo­rial Plaza on Thurs­day af­ter­noon to de­mand that a ma­jor­ity of the work­ers hired by the de­vel­oper be lo­cal res­i­dents and that they be paid “pre­vail­ing wages.” The union does not be­lieve agree­ments with Sag­amore pay enough work­ers such wages.

“Sag­amore wants to use the city’s money and take ad­van­tage of the work­ers,” said David Al­li­son, busi­ness man­ager for LiUNA’s Bal­ti­more Washington La­bor­ers’ district coun­cil. fa­cil­i­ties,”

The union wants work­ers to re­ceive health in­sur­ance, re­tire­ment fund­ing and pay that al­lows them to sup­port their fam­i­lies, Al­li­son said. If struc­tured prop­erly, he said, Port Cov­ing­ton’s re­de­vel­op­ment “has the pos­si­bil­ity of creat­ing a new mid­dle class in Bal­ti­more.”

Harford County res­i­dent Omar Thomas, 46, re­cently fin­ished an ap­pren­tice­ship pro­gram in gen­eral con­struc­tion. A for­mer casino em­ployee in At­lantic City, N.J., he at­tended Thurs­day’s rally to ad­vo­cate for union-wage jobs at Port Cov­ing­ton.

“I have lived in a lot of places and I have seen de­vel­op­ment like this come in, and they prom­ise a lot of dif­fer­ent things and hardly de­liver,” Thomas said.

Weller re­jected the union’s ar­gu­ment. He said LiUNA re­fused an of­fer from the com­pany that “could re­sult in 100 per­cent pre­vail­ing wages to Bal­ti­more City res­i­dents work­ing on the project and only wanted those wages paid to their mem­bers.”

He also ac­cused the union of not want­ing to “pri­or­i­tize Bal­ti­more City res­i­dents for em­ploy­ment or wages or Bal­ti­more City busi­nesses for con­tracts.”

“Sag­amore is never will­ing to pri­or­i­tize any­one or any­thing over city res­i­dents, city busi­nesses and, es­pe­cially, the city’s mi­nor­ity and women en­trepreneurs,” Weller said. “These are the re­al­i­ties of the dis­cus­sions be­tween Sag­amore and LiUNA and make it per­fectly clear why they are on the out­side look­ing in.”

Al­li­son said the union ne­go­ti­ated with the de­vel­oper in good faith and still hoped to reach an agree­ment.

Coun­cil­man Carl Stokes ex­pressed con­cern that the pub­lic had not had time to prop­erly re­view the $100 mil­lion com­mu­nity ben­e­fits agree­ment.

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