Mayor to sell garages on own

Rawl­ings-Blake will by­pass City Coun­cil in bid to raise rec funds

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Luke Broad­wa­ter and Yvonne Wenger

In what would be one of her last acts in of­fice, Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake said Mon­day she plans to by­pass the City Coun­cil with a pro­posal to sell four of Baltimore’s down­town park­ing garages to raise up to $60 mil­lion for re­cre­ation cen­ters.

The plan, blocked for two years by City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young, has stalled in a coun­cil com­mit­tee long enough, Rawl­ings-Blake said. She said she is con­ven­ing a lit­tle-known body called the Off-Street Park­ing Com­mis­sion that will be mostly filled with mem­bers of her staff.

Hav­ing that com­mit­tee pass the mea­sure, she said, will elim­i­nate the need for the City Coun­cil to ap­prove the plan.

“I have no de­sire to do an end run around the coun­cil,” the mayor said. “I’ve been push­ing for over two years to sim­ply ask for a hear­ing. I wish that hear­ing could have hap­pened. It didn’t. ... We found a way to push for­ward.”

The Off-Street Park­ing Com­mis­sion hasn’t met since 2007. The mayor said she will ap­point six mem­bers of her staff, in­clud­ing Fi­nance Direc­tor Henry Ray­mond, to the panel.

The group has sched­uled a meet­ing for Thurs­day, when it is ex­pected to au­tho­rize sell­ing the garages. The coun­cil is wel­come to ap­point a mem­ber, Rawl­ings-Blake said.

The vote would clear the way for the city to be­gin ne­go­ti­at­ing with com­pa­nies to buy the garages. That process will not be fin­ished be­fore Mayor-elect Cather­ine E. Pugh takes of­fice Dec. 6, so she would make

the fi­nal de­ci­sion on the deal and how any money is spent.

Rawl­ings-Blake said she spoke with Pugh about the idea. She has pitched spend­ing money from sell­ing the garages on a $136 mil­lion mul­ti­year plan for park, pool and rec cen­ter im­prove­ments around the city.

Pugh said she will have her eco­nomic devel­op­ment team study the “fea­si­bil­ity” of sell­ing the garages.

“I won’t make that de­ci­sion be­fore a care­ful eval­u­a­tion of the eco­nom­ics,” Pugh said.

Young called Rawl­ings-Blake “un­scrupu­lous” dur­ing the City Coun­cil meet­ing Mon­day.

“This is the last cou­ple of weeks of her ad­min­is­tra­tion. I don’t think she should be ty­ing the hands of the new mayor by sell­ing a city as­set that’s re­ally, re­ally gen­er­at­ing rev­enue for the city,” Young said. “This mayor, in my opin­ion, has been back­room deal­ing, be­cause I don’t know who she wants to sell the garages to.”

Young said Rawl­ings-Blake should spend her last month in of­fice fo­cus­ing on sign­ing a con­sent de­cree with the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice to ad­dress dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices by the Baltimore Po­lice Depart­ment.

He said the garages are owned equally by the mayor and City Coun­cil — so the coun­cil must be in­volved in their sale.

“We don’t have time for this non­sense,” he said.

Young has fought the sale of the garages for two years. He said last year he would not give the mayor’s bill a hear­ing un­less he re­ceived as­sur­ances that the money would be used to build “su­per” re­cre­ation cen­ters in east and west Baltimore.

Young wants the cen­ters mod­eled on the 135,000-square-foot Boo Williams Sport­splex in Hamp­ton, Va.

The Rawl­ings-Blake ad­min­is­tra­tion has ar­gued that smaller neigh­bor­hood re­cre­ation cen­ters fit Baltimore bet­ter than more are­nas the size of DuBurns Arena in Can­ton.

Rawl­ings-Blake pro­posed sell­ing four of the city’s 17 park­ing garages — on Eutaw, Paca, Gay and St. Paul streets — to get a quick cash in­fu­sion for rec cen­ters. But Young noted the four garages are mon­ey­mak­ers, and ques­tioned the wis­dom of for­go­ing fu­ture rev­enue.

The city has un­loaded 14 of its 55 rec cen­ters since 2012 as part of Rawl­ingsBlake’s over­haul of city re­cre­ation pro­gram­ming. The mayor said the idea was to of­fer stronger pro­grams at bet­ter, if fewer, cen­ters. Four cen­ters were closed. Ten oth­ers were trans­ferred to pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tions or the school sys­tem.

The city has since pledged to con­duct a cam­paign of ren­o­vat­ing cen­ters and build­ing new ones.

The Rita R. Church Com­mu­nity Cen­ter opened in Clifton Park in 2013 in a ren­o­vated his­toric pav­il­ion. The city opened a $4.4 mil­lion rec cen­ter in Mor­rell Park in 2014 that city of­fi­cials call “state of the art.” The ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to open a new fa­cil­ity in Cherry Hill.

The mayor’s plans in­clude re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing or build­ing 11 fit­ness and well­ness cen­ters that would cater to peo­ple of all ages at a cost of $84 mil­lion.

An­other $20 mil­lion would pay for ren­o­va­tions at five com­mu­nity cen­ters, and $20 mil­lion more would go to up­grad­ing four out­door sports cen­ters.

Up­grades to four ex­ist­ing out­door pools and three “spray pads” would cost roughly $13 mil­lion.

Rawl­ings-Blake said Mon­day the sale of the garages is not about cre­at­ing a stronger legacy be­fore she leaves of­fice next month. She did not seek re-elec­tion after seven years in of­fice.

“I promised my­self and the public I was go­ing to work hard — ev­ery hour — un­til the last hour,” she said. “This is just an­other ex­am­ple of the progress I’ve been push­ing for.

“I be­lieve these [garages] could turn into as­sets for Baltimore’s fam­i­lies if the city were to sell them. ... It was very un­for­tu­nate that this is­sue be­came politi­cized. I’m re­ally not in­ter­ested in that. I’m in­ter­ested in push­ing for­ward.”

City Coun­cil­man Bran­don Scott said he tried to get the mayor and coun­cil pres­i­dent to work to­gether on the is­sue, but “we all know that’s not go­ing to hap­pen.”

“I don’t care if we go with the pres­i­dent’s idea or the mayor’s, or some com­bi­na­tion of both; I just want to build the rec cen­ters,” Scott said.

The money from the sales could pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple, he said.

“It could be trans­for­ma­tional,” Scott said. “We could build rec cen­ters across the city — big, re­gional, great cen­ters with the stuff the chil­dren want to use, not the same ones, the out­dated ones.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.