Pat­er­akis’ legacy

Our view: The baker-turned-de­vel­oper was both a Bal­ti­more vi­sion­ary and a ves­tige of the city’s past

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

John Pat­er­akis Sr.’s death Sun­day came at an aus­pi­cious time for eval­u­at­ing his legacy. The bak­ery mag­nate, de­vel­oper and phi­lan­thropist in Bal­ti­more’s Greek com­mu­nity left an indelible mark on his home­town, re­shap­ing it phys­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally in ways that loomed over this year’s de­bate on the pro­posed re­de­vel­op­ment of Port Cov­ing­ton. His ex­am­ple be­came one that the city si­mul­ta­ne­ously fol­lowed and re­jected in ways that could res­onate for years to come.

As a busi­ness­man, Mr. Pat­er­akis took risks and al­ways had an eye for the fu­ture — both in his bak­eries, where he re­lent­lessly mod­ern­ized to keep ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion, and in his real es­tate de­vel­op­ment ven­tures, where he made mas­sive per­sonal in­vest­ments in what would be­come Har­bor East. In a city that of­ten ex­hibits an in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex, he saw a mar­ket for high-end apart­ments and of­fices, and he didn’t worry that build­ing some­thing new would can­ni­bal­ize the old.

He was the kind of de­vel­oper who would de­cide to build a new, fancier home for Whole Foods right next to the gro­cer’s ex­ist­ing lo­ca­tion in Har­bor East on the as­sump­tion that some new ten­ant would come along to fill the old space — just like Transamer­ica came along to re­place Legg Ma­son when the fi­nan­cial ser­vices firm de­camped from Bal­ti­more’s tra­di­tional down­town to Har­bor East. Con­struc­tion costs are bal­loon­ing on the new Whole Foods/lux­ury apart­ment project in a way that might not make sense un­der the current eco­nomics of Bal­ti­more’s rental mar­ket, but the Pat­er­akis fam­ily and its part­ners haven’t flinched. In fact, they’re eye­ing more de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in the neigh­bor­hood.

With­out Har­bor East, it would be al­most im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine Un­der Ar­mour founder Kevin Plank’s vision for Port Cov­ing­ton. To be sure, the fast-grow­ing sports ap­parel com­pany would have needed a new head­quar­ters. But the idea of plac­ing it in the con­text of a decades-long plan for new apart­ments, re­tail, of­fices, parks and ho­tels on hundreds of acres of South Bal­ti­more wa­ter­front only seems plau­si­ble be­cause Mr. Pat­er­akis proved that big bets on Bal­ti­more’s fu­ture can pay off. When he started build­ing Har­bor East, Mr. Pat­er­akis seemed crazy. Be­cause he suc­ceeded, Mr. Plank merely looks op­ti­mistic.

But inas­much as Mr. Pat­er­akis came to sym­bol­ize a bullish­ness about Bal­ti­more’s fu­ture, he also served as Ex­hibit A in the case made by crit­ics of the city’s pub­lic sup­port for de­vel­op­ers. Har­bor East was built not just on Mr. Pat­er­akis’ sub­stan­tial per­sonal in­vest­ments but also on a raft of tax abate­ments and other pub­lic sub­si­dies. The Marriott Wa­ter­front Ho­tel in Har­bor East, for ex­am­ple, was built un­der a deal that al­lows it to pay just $1a year in prop­erty taxes for 25 years.

Mr. Pat­er­akis wasn’t just any busi­ness­man; he was deeply John Pat­er­akis Sr. was a dar­ing busi­ness­man and a quiet phi­lan­thropist fo­cused on Bal­ti­more’s Greek com­mu­nity. con­nected in City Hall and the State House, thanks in no small part to his ex­ten­sive con­tri­bu­tions to po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns (in­clud­ing some that led to guilty pleas on two mis­de­meanor cam­paign fi­nance vi­o­la­tions in 2009). It’s true that he bought the land that would form the bulk of Har­bor East at the per­sonal re­quest of then-Mayor Wil­liam Don­ald Schae­fer af­ter an­other plan failed through — and that the city re­neged on buy­ing it back from him. He took a big risk in bail­ing out the city then, and it could have failed badly. But it’s also true that his sta­tus as an in­sider fa­cil­i­tated op­por­tu­ni­ties that he oth­er­wise likely never would have got­ten.

Thus, when Mr. Plank’s Sag­amore De­vel­op­ment came to the city ask­ing for more than a half-bil­lion dol­lars in tax in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing, the shadow of Mr. Pat­er­akis and Har­bor East col­ored the pub­lic re­ac­tion. Com­mu­nity ac­tivists from across the city saw Port Cov­ing­ton as yet an­other ex­am­ple of a wealthy, po­lit­i­cally con­nected busi­ness­man seek­ing pub­lic sup­port to build a city-within-a-city, cut off from the im­pov­er­ished neigh­bor­hoods up­town. Like Har­bor­place be­fore it, Mr. Pat­er­akis’ Har­bor East (and the ris­ing Har­bor Point just be­yond it) came to sym­bol­ize the two-Ba­ti­mores phe­nom­e­non in which pros­per­ity looms on the hori­zon be­yond the reach of those who need it most.

If not for Har­bor East, the Port Cov­ing­ton de­bate might have played out quite dif­fer­ently. Those de­mand­ing in­clu­sion­ary hous­ing and em­ploy­ment poli­cies to ac­com­pany pub­lic sub­si­dies could point to it as a case study in the fail­ure of wa­ter­front de­vel­op­ment to lift up the rest of the city. That ex­pe­ri­ence, cou­pled with a shift in con­scious­ness af­ter the Fred­die Gray unrest, cre­ated the po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions in which lead­ers on the City Coun­cil could de­mand that Sag­amore ne­go­ti­ate with neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties and ci­ty­wide groups like Bal­ti­more­ans United in Lead­er­ship De­vel­op­ment on far-reach­ing com­mu­nity ben­e­fits agree­ments. It is that deal, not those Mr. Pat­er­akis struck, that now be­comes the tem­plate for Bal­ti­more in the years ahead.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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