Balto. Co. de­lays Tradepoint deal

Pro­posed aid re­duced; new coun­cil, ex­ec­u­tive to make de­ci­sion on Spar­rows Point

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Wood

Bal­ti­more County would give Tradepoint At­lantic, the com­pany re­de­vel­op­ing the for­mer steel mill in Spar­rows Point into a ship­ping and lo­gis­tics hub, mil­lions less in fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance than the de­vel­oper has sought un­der a pend­ing agree­ment.

The county plans to pro­pose about $78 mil­lion in aid for the con­struc­tion of roads, wa­ter lines and sewer pipes on the vast prop­erty, ac­cord­ing to County Coun­cil Chair­man Ju­lian Jones.

Tradepoint of­fi­cials ini­tially sought up to $150 mil­lion in govern­ment-as­sisted fi­nanc­ing, then later down­graded their ex­pec­ta­tions to less than $100 mil­lion.

Con­sid­er­a­tion of the project also is be­ing de­layed un­til the new County Coun­cil and county ex­ec­u­tive take of­fice.

Jones said Thurs­day that coun­cil mem- The Tradepoint At­lantic logo adorns a wa­ter tower on the site of the for­mer Beth­le­hem Steel mill in Spar­rows Point, now be­ing turned into a ship­ping and lo­gis­tics hub. bers are sched­uled to have brief­ings on the new deal next week, but a vote on the mat­ter won’t come un­til De­cem­ber.

While he of­fered no de­tails about the pro­posed aid, he said the pack­age be­ing pre­pared by cur­rent County Ex­ec­u­tive Don Mohler will not come in the form of govern­ment-as­sisted fi­nanc­ing, as Tradepoint ini­tially sought.

“We just made a de­ci­sion that let’s just slow this thing down,” said Jones, a Wood­stock Demo­crat. “It would be great if we could have got­ten it done, but let’s just slow it down.”

The new timetable means the deal will be up for coun­cil ap­proval af­ter Mohler leaves of­fice and Johnny Ol­szewski Jr. is sworn in as the next county ex­ec­u­tive. Ol­szewski, a Demo­crat and ally of Mohler, de­feated Repub­li­can Al Red­mer Jr. in Tues­day’s elec­tion.

Ol­szewski is wait­ing to hear more de­tails about the pro­posed agree­ment, ac­cord­ing to his spokesman, Sean Naron.

“He has re­quested a full brief­ing and it’s ex­pected to be com­pleted by early next week,” Naron said. “He re­mains com­mit­ted to mak­ing sure any deal is good for tax­pay­ers and he will work with the county, the coun­cil, the com­mu­nity and all in­vested part­ners in en­sur­ing this once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion project can suc­ceed.”

Ol­szewski is from Dun­dalk and spoke of­ten dur­ing the cam­paign about grow­ing up “in the shadow of the steel mill” and un­der­stand­ing the need to bring jobs back to Spar­rows Point. The mill, which was op­er­ated by Beth­le­hem Steel for most of its his­tory, closed for good in 2012 when then-owner RG Steel went bank­rupt.

Mohler and Tradepoint of­fi­cials pre­vi­ously in­di­cated that they wanted to se­cure a deal be­fore the changeover to the next ex­ec­u­tive and coun­cil, which is set for Dec. 3.

Fronda Co­hen, a spokes­woman for Mohler, de­clined to di­vulge de­tails about what the fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to Tradepoint will en­tail.

“As the county ex­ec­u­tive has said, he is very sup­port­ive of the en­tire devel­op­ment and the huge eco­nomic im­pact and jobs that it’s go­ing to bring,” she said. “We are in the very fi­nal stages of putting to­gether an agree­ment that will be put be­fore stake­hold­ers very soon.”

Of­fi­cials with Tradepoint At­lantic did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Thurs- day. But they’ve pre­vi­ously said that they need help with in­fra­struc­ture to open up the en­tire 5-square-mile site to devel­op­ment. The prop­erty cur­rently lacks roads and wa­ter and sewer in­fra­struc­ture that’s nec­es­sary to lure top ten­ants, such as man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies.

Tradepoint At­lantic bought the for­mer steel mill in 2014 and has been work­ing to re­de­velop the site. Ten­ants so far in­clude ware­houses for FedEx, Ama­zon and Un­der Ar­mour, as well as an auto-im­port­ing op­er­a­tion run by Pasha Au­to­mo­tive and other busi­nesses.

The com­pany launched a Re­vi­tal­ize Spar­rows Point cam­paign this sum­mer to pro­mote the need for pub­lic fi­nanc­ing, and en­listed for­mer county ex­ec­u­tive Ted Vene­toulis as the face of the cam­paign.

Ini­tially, the com­pany sought the as­sis­tance in the form of tax-in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing, of­ten called a TIF. Un­der such a deal, the govern­ment is­sues bonds to bor­row the money needed for the in­fra­struc­ture work. The bonds would be paid back us­ing a por­tion of the prop­erty taxes that Tradepoint At­lantic would pay in the fu­ture. The value of the prop­erty, and there­fore the amount of prop­erty taxes paid, is ex­pected to in­crease as the site is de­vel­oped.

Such ar­range­ments are of­ten con­tro­ver­sial be­cause they ded­i­cate a por­tion of the taxes to bond pay­ments in­stead of to gen­eral govern­ment ser­vices such as schools, pub­lic safety or pub­lic works.

It’s un­clear what type of as­sis­tance the county might be propos­ing for Tradepoint At­lantic now that a TIF is off the ta­ble.

For other eco­nomic devel­op­ment projects, the county has of­fered for­giv­able loans, grants and agree­ments in­volv­ing tax cred­its.

In the case of Tow­son Row, a pro­posed mixed-use devel­op­ment on York Road in Tow­son, the county put to­gether a com­plex $43 mil­lion pack­age to help jump-start the stalled project. A di­vided County Coun­cil ap­proved that deal last De­cem­ber.

JERRY JACK­SON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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