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Candidates target public subsidies, modular housing on upswing, tidbits and more

One of the targets at a Democratic mayoral forum sponsored by BUILD Thursday night was giving public subsidies to wealthy developers to help in local economic development.

You know, like the subsidies given or promised to developers John Paterakis, William C. “Bill” Struever and Patrick Turner, to name a few, for projects including the Marriott Waterfront, Clipper Mill and Westport, respectively.

All are located in chic and shabby chic parts of town – and have gotten millions of dollars in tax breaks.

Paterakis, for example, cut a deal with the Baltimore Development Corp. to pay just $1 in property taxes on the glittering waterfront hotel property for 25 years.

Those who packed the pews of stately St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church wanted answers on the use of tax increment financing, or TIF, and payments in lieu of taxes, commonly known as a PILOT.

“When are we going to hear about the TIF that will spur uptown development?” asked Rev. Andrew Foster-Connors, pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church and a co-chair of the grassroots, clergy-led group, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development.

BUILD sought pledges from the four candidates who attended its “accountability session,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Joseph T. “Jody” Landers III, Catherine Pugh and Otis Rolley III.

They pinned them down on a proposal to form a community investment fund if elected that would match dollar for dollar all public subsidies spent on downtown development in a neighborhood growth fund for the city’s communities, many impoverished and pockmarked by blight and vacancies.

All said they would.

But how?

Rolley said he would nuke the BDC, which drew cheers and an “Amen” chorus of many BUILD members in the church. Landers said he would redesign the city’s residential property tax system and steer newly collected funds toward the communities. Pugh and Rawlings-Blake offered scant details.

BUILD also sought a moratorium on the TIF granted to Harbor Point by the City Council on Dec. 6, 2010, “until a more equitable system can be drawn up.”

That deal granted $155 million in tax breaks for development of the slice of land situated between Harbor East and Fells Point.

The city has eight TIF districts, including East Baltimore Development Inc., Westport and State Center. Bonds for Harbor Point, Westport and State Center have not yet been sold.

TIF bonds have been used by BDC as incentive-based financing for developers because they allow cities to pay for infrastructure such as upgraded water and sewer lines, lighting and roadways on undeveloped or blighted urban properties.

The bonds are repaid to private holders through diverted property taxes over a period of time that averages 30 years.

Councilman Carl Stokes, who formed a task force this winter to study TIFs and PILOTs, said Thursday night a list of recommendations from the panel would be released after the Sept. 13 primary.

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Healthy Neighborhoods Inc. is sponsoring Great Neighborhoods, Great Homes on Sept. 24 at the Patterson Park Public Charter School.

The event will highlight 100 homes in seven city communities including Waverly, Belair-Edison, Ednor Gardens and Reservoir Hill that range in price from $80,000 to $250,000. Closing cost subsidies are available to those who qualify. To register, call Healthy Neighborhoods at 410-332-0387.

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While much of the residential housing construction business remains flat, there is a glimmer of optimism in the modular housing market.

Last week, Nationwide Homes, of Martinsburg, W.Va., hit the 35,000 mark in construction of modular units. The company even said that sales are picking up, thanks to a nod from the popular television show “Extreme Makeover,” which featured the homebuilder last year.

“As we look to the future, we believe demographics are on our side,” said Dan Goodin, Nationwide’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Demographic trends already show that most new buyers in the next decade will prefer smaller structures to the large ‘McMansions’ typically built in the last housing boom.”

Goodin also said the company believes construction of modular homes will challenge traditional developments because of the recession.

“There are considerable obstacles to planned housing developments,” he said. “Towns faced with fiscal issues also won’t be as eager to build roads, services and schools in outlying areas where all of the development occurred before. Lending institutions are also restricting financing for large projects. As a result, we have a unique opportunity to market the high quality and speed of construction of modular housing to growing numbers of families who will be looking to build their own homes on infill sites or other scattered lot and rural properties.”

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CREW Baltimore will host a forum on commercial leasing trends Sept. 27 at the Center Club.

The group, Commercial Real Estate Women, will dissect the landscape in today’s development market locally including what areas and types of properties are seeing the most leasing activity, how will new accounting changes affect businesses and what information should tenants be asking to ensure the financial stability of the landlord.

The event begins at 8 a.m.

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Old meets new on Facebook.

Check out PreservationDirectory.com, an online historic preservation and cultural resource tool that has just launched a Facebook page for its historic real estate website, www.HistoricForSale.com.

The FB page will feature daily historic real estate listings and profiles of agents who specialize in historic and vintage houses as well as commercial properties.

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TIDBITS: The Urban Land Institute just published “Master Planned Communities from the Developments of Chuck Cobb.” The tome holds more than 200 full-color photographs, maps, and diagrams of Cobb’s career in real estate development that has spanned a half century. It was written by Kalvin Platt. Cost is $87.95 for nonmembers of the institute, $69.95 for members. . . Harborplace and the Gallery may appear to be caged in with the approaching Grand Prix race, but merchants are offering deals this weekend through Labor Day in an attempt to rev up sales. . .Merritt Properties just announced the lease of more than 10,000 square feet of commercial space at 11201 Dolfield Boulevard in Owings Mills to Rand Worldwide Subsidiary, Inc., a technology group.