Ap­prove Port Cov­ing­ton

Our view: The agree­ment Sag­amore and city of­fi­cials de­scribed for Port Cov­ing­ton has the po­ten­tial for trans­for­ma­tive change in Bal­ti­more

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

To call the agree­ment be­tween Sag­amore De­vel­op­ment, city of­fi­cials, Bal­ti­more­ans United in Lead­er­ship De­vel­op­ment and others on com­mu­nity ben­e­fits re­lated to the Port Cov­ing­ton de­vel­op­ment “un­prece­dented,” as speaker af­ter speaker did in an­nounc­ing it Thurs­day, doesn’t say much. The prece­dent for such a thing was pretty close to noth­ing. But to hear BUILD clergy co-chair the Rev. Glenna Hu­ber lit­er­ally sing its praises (a cred­itable rendition of “A brand new day” from the mu­si­cal “The Wiz”) was ex­tra­or­di­nary. Not ev­ery­one is happy with the deal — some unions in par­tic­u­lar are dis­sat­is­fied with the pre­vail­ing-wage re­quire­ments — but it does mark the most se­ri­ous and pro­duc­tive ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween a de­vel­oper, the city and ad­vo­cates on is­sues like af­ford­able hous­ing and lo­cal hir­ing that we have seen on a ma­jor Bal­ti­more project in re­cent mem­ory.

In­deed, if any­one has rea­son to be un­happy, it’s the other de­vel­op­ers in town. City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young — who was in­stru­men­tal in the ne­go­ti­a­tions — said it sets a new stan­dard that fu­ture tax in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing deals will be judged against. It also sig­nif­i­cantly in­creases BUILD’s clout as an or­ga­ni­za­tion that can ne­go­ti­ate in good faith and achieve re­sults.

We’re not cer­tain that it guar­an­tees, as an­other BUILD leader, Bishop Dou­glas Miles, put it, that Bal­ti­more will never again see a deal in which “up­town is left out of the equa­tion” of down­town de­vel­op­ment. Rede­vel­op­ing Port Cov­ing­ton — an area that in­cludes The Sun’s print­ing plant, for which the paper has a long-term lease with Sag­amore — is a per­sonal mis­sion of Un­der Ar­mour founder Kevin Plank. He has said he wants not only to pro­vide a sig­na­ture cor­po­rate cam­pus for his fast-grow­ing com­pany but also to re­make the im­age of his adopted home­town. We don’t doubt he hopes to profit from the ven­ture, but that doesn’t ap­pear to be his sole or even pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion. More­over, the scale of the Port Cov­ing­ton plan — a $5.5 bil­lion de­vel­op­ment ex­pected to take decades to com­plete — sets it apart. With most de­vel­op­ments, the ques­tion is how to mit­i­gate the im­pact on sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods. This one is big enough to war­rant dis­cus­sion of its po­ten­tial im­pact on the whole city.

But even if this deal marks the high-wa­ter mark for com­mu­nity ben­e­fits agree­ments, the project’s scale means it has the po­ten­tial to move the nee­dle by it­self on some of the city’s most ur­gent needs. This agree­ment should help en­sure it ac­tu­ally does. Odd though City Coun­cil­man Carl Stokes’ han­dling of the mat­ter may have been Thurs­day in the com­mit­tee he heads — first vot­ing in fa­vor of two bills re­lated to tax in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing for Port Cov­ing­ton and then ad­journ­ing with­out ex­pla­na­tion be­fore a vote on the third — the ra­tio­nale he even­tu­ally of­fered isn’t un­rea­son­able. The agree­ment is large and com­plex, and it would be­hoove the coun­cil and the city to take at least some time to go over the de­tails. But in broad strokes, it looks like an ex­cel­lent deal.

Some of the most ob­vi­ous im­prove­ments from the pre­vi­ous mem­o­ran­dums of un­der­stand­ing be­tween Sag­amore and the city re­late to af­ford­able hous­ing. Not only has Sag­amore agreed to dou­ble its ini­tial goal for af­ford­able hous­ing from the equiv­a­lent of 10 per­cent of the new res­i­den­tial units at Port Cov­ing­ton to 20 per­cent, it has agreed to make it a man­date. More­over, it has agreed to make a por­tion of the units avail­able to those at very low-in­come thresh­olds (30 per­cent of area me­dian in­come). In all, it serves the twin goals of en­sur­ing a larger sup­ply of qual­ity, af­ford­able hous­ing in the city gen­er­ally and mak­ing sure that Port The Rev. Glenna Hu­ber (cen­ter) was joined by her BUILD clergy co-chair, the Rev. An­drew Fos­ter Con­nors (right), and BUILD co-chair emer­i­tus Bishop Dou­glas Miles (left) to voice sup­port for the Port Cov­ing­ton com­mu­nity ben­e­fits agree­ment. Cov­ing­ton doesn’t sim­ply be­come an en­clave of the well-to-do.

But per­haps even more mean­ing­ful were Sag­amore’s con­ces­sions on jobs. BUILD came into the talks de­mand­ing that 51 per­cent of all jobs — both con­struc­tion jobs and per­ma­nent ones in the de­vel­op­ment — go to Bal­ti­more res­i­dents. It didn’t get that, but it did get a man­date that 30 per­cent of the on-site in­fras­truc­ture work will be done by city res­i­dents. That re­quire­ment is key. It means Sag­amore will have to put tremen­dous ef­fort into re­cruit­ment and work­force de­vel­op­ment (it upped its mone­tary com­mit­ment to such pro­grams as well), and that con­trac­tors seek­ing work will have an in­cen­tive to in­clude more city res­i­dents on their pay­rolls. Once the con­struc­tion is done, those work­ers will be more mar­ketable for fu­ture jobs.

Sag­amore also agreed to a goal that 30 per­cent of per­ma­nent jobs on site be filled by city work­ers — and to mech­a­nisms to help make that hap­pen, like a re­quire­ment that fu­ture ten­ants ad­ver­tise open­ings first through a city jobs por­tal.

An­other cru­cial de­tail re­lates to the pos­si­bil­ity that the de­vel­op­ment could lead to a re­duc­tion in state school fund­ing for Bal­ti­more based on for­mu­las that mea­sure a ju­ris­dic­tion’s wealth. TIF deals like this one have the ef­fect of mak­ing the city look richer in the fund­ing for­mu­las with­out pro­duc­ing new tax rev­enues for the city to use to make up for the re­sult­ing re­duc­tion in state aid. Sag­amore agreed not to re­quest the is­suance of any TIF bonds if they are pro­jected to hurt Bal­ti­more’s school aid and to lobby the leg­is­la­ture on a per­ma­nent fix to a prob­lem.

The newa­gree­ment maynot an­swer ev­ery ques­tion or con­cern about the project. But just as Sag­amore’s TIF re­quest was sur­pris­ingly large, these con­ces­sions are sur­pris­ingly good. Much could go right or wrong with this deal over the next four decades, but Sag­amore has proven its will­ing­ness to lis­ten to res­i­dents’ con­cerns and to ne­go­ti­ate in good faith de­spite what has, at times, been an ugly at­mo­sphere. By all means, let’s ex­am­ine the de­tails of the agree­ment, but if they square with the out­lines we’ve heard so far, we be­lieve the coun­cil should ap­prove the TIF leg­is­la­tion and al­low this project to go for­ward.

CAITLIN FAW/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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