The Baltimore City Council unanimously approved Monday a resolution calling for a series of investigative hearings into the projected $1.8 billion development known as The New East Baltimore.
The resolution was introduced by Councilman Carl Stokes and had 10 co-sponsors. It calls for leaders of East Baltimore Development Inc., the nonprofit that is spearheading the project, to appear before the council and answer questions about the lack of progress in biotech development, job creation and new housing after a decade and the expenditure of more than $564 million.
Stokes also said he wants an explanation of the high salaries of some EBDI executives.
“We’re going to look at everything,” he said.
The first hearing is scheduled for March 30 at 5 p.m. in the City Council chamber before the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee. It will be televised.
Last week, The Daily Record published a five-part series, “Too Big to Fail? Betting a Billion on East Baltimore,” that chronicled the inconsistent and sluggish 10-year history of the nation’s largest urban redevelopment project.
Noting the findings of the series, Stokes’ resolution said, “With progress years behind schedule, and the ultimate vision of what successful redevelopment may look like apparently shifting, it is important that the city council exercise its oversight role to determine just how EBDI has spent hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars and how the redevelopment efforts should proceed in light of the changed circumstances.
“The success or failure of this project, paid for with disruption to so many lives and so much public money, will shape the future of much of East Baltimore and the city as a whole. Therefore, the decisions that will determine this success or failure must be made transparently and with adequate input from those representing the communities most affected.”
Stokes said he expects there will be more than one hearing because he is inviting former residents of the Middle East community who were relocated and current residents to testify. Officials of Johns Hopkins University, the city Finance Department and the Annie E. Casey Foundation will also be asked to attend the hearing and detail their parts in the redevelopment, he said.
Stokes is also calling for EBDI to release all of its internal audits on the project. Even though he is an ex-officio member of EBDI’s board, he said he has never been presented with a copy of the internal audits. He said the taxation committee, because it is holding an investigatory hearing, has subpoena power.
“I am calling for the release of any and all audits,” he said.
EBDI was formed in 2002 by the city and Johns Hopkins University and members of the community to oversee acquisition, resident relocation, demolition and redevelopment of 88 acres north of Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The project called for 1,200 new homes to be built over two phases and parks and green space where blight once consumed blocks of decaying row houses. The redevelopment would create up to 8,000 new jobs in the area, many of them for East Baltimore residents, EBDI’s original mission statement said.
That mission statement also called for construction of a “world class” 1.1 million-square-foot biotech park, linked to Hopkins research, with five life science buildings.
But so far, more than 600 residents have been relocated and just under 220 homes have been built. EBDI has spent a total of $564 million, with the public’s share totaling $212.6 million.
Only one biotech building, the John G. Rangos Sr. Building, has been built, and it is not fully leased, despite opening nearly three years ago. The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is expected to build a lab on one of the four remaining biotech building sites. Three other sites remain vacant and cleared — as they have for years.
Officials close to the project and top state economic development officials have said EBDI’s plan to build a life sciences park have been derailed by the recession and a changing vision for the development. Hopkins officials are hoping a public school, to be built for $40 million on 7 acres near the hospital, will attract homeowners and new investors to the area.
Because EBDI is a nonprofit, there has been no public audit or comprehensive accounting of the project’s finances to date. Requests by The Daily Record for copies of internal audits were denied by EBDI officials.
The hearings are supported by Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who grew up in a row house razed in the effort to redevelop the community.
In addition to Stokes and Young, co-sponsors of the resolution were: Warren Branch, Mary Pat Clarke, Helen Holton, William “Pete” Welch, Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, Robert Curran, Sharon Green Middleton and Belinda Conaway
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Baltimore, is scheduled to hold a forum Tuesday morning at Morgan State University to give an update on the EBDI project to minority contractors, his press office in Washington said Monday.