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$300K incentive on tap for brain institute

The city Board of Estimates is expected to vote Wednesday on a request to use $300,000 in state general obligation bonds to help a private brain research institute affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University hire 60 employees in East Baltimore.

The Lieber Institute Inc. is expected to open a brain research center near the Johns Hopkins Hospital this spring at the site of a massive redevelopment in Middle East.

The group will operate from lab space in the John G. Rangos Sr. Building, the only life sciences building on the 88-acre parcel, site of a $1.8 billion redevelopment by the East Baltimore Development Inc.

So far, $564 million have been spent on the project, the nation’s largest urban redevelopment, which has been underway for 10 years and has led to the relocation of more than 700 households. Of that, $212.6 million have been public funds.

The Lieber Institute focuses on schizophrenia research and is has been based in New York, said M.J. “Jay” Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., which is requesting the funds as incentive to lure Lieber to Baltimore.

The Board of Estimates is scheduled to vote on a loan agreement using the state bond funds for the hiring and for capital improvements and training at the institute.

If the institute hires 60 full-time employees by Dec. 31, 2012, and retains the workers for three years, the loans of $5,000 per employee will be forgiven, Brodie said. If not, Lieber must repay the state by March 2016.

“It was either New York or Baltimore, and the state wanted to get them here,” said Jeffrey Pillas, chief financial officer of the BDC. “The state came up with the money. This is what you do.”

Pillas said EBDI began negotiating with Lieber three years ago this week. The institute has signed a 10-year lease for 30,000 square feet of lab space on the third floor of the Rangos building, which opened three years ago and has not been fully leased.

Overall, the state has invested $4 million in EBDI projects from its Economic Development Opportunities Program Fund. Of that investment, $2 million are earmarked for a loan to the Lieber Institute, to be repaid from state tax credits Lieber receives under the One Maryland Tax Credit Program.

EBDI has pledged as recently as 2009 that the project would eventually generate 6,500 permanent jobs. But today, there are only 422 jobs at the Rangos building — and most of them are not newly created positions, but transferred jobs.

EBDI officials say 2,378 jobs were created in The New East Baltimore over the past decade, but most of them were temporary construction jobs that lasted an average of two months.