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Changes to Harbor Point TIF district proposed

In the wake of Exelon Corp.’s decision to locate its Baltimore headquarters at Harbor Point, the city’s development agency is seeking to fast-track consideration of broadening the scope of a 27-acre tax increment financing district there approved a year ago.

The move is part of sweeping changes proposed for Harbor Point that include the $120 million building and a new roadway and bridge crossing over Central Avenue and linking the now cobblestone street to the headquarters, Baltimore Development Corp. officials said Friday.

Days after Exelon announced plans to build about 300,000 square feet of office and trading space at Harbor Point, BDC executives said a request by Harbor East Development Group LLC and H&S Properties Inc. was moving through the agency’s approval process. The request had been made before the Exelon announcement, a BDC official said.

The City Council created the $155 million tax increment financing district at Harbor Point in December 2010.

“It would be part of the TIF,” said M.J. “Jay” Brodie, president of BDC, about the new roadway and bridge, which he said had no cost estimates yet. “It would include the auto and pedestrian bridge that would extend Central Avenue to the Harbor Point site, so Harbor Point would be the southern terminus of Central Avenue.”

In the meantime, downtown business leaders met with the BDC on Friday afternoon to discuss a new strategy for strengthening the city’s core business district through upgrades and redevelopment of several buildings and areas, Brodie said. That action could include establishing a new TIF district downtown.

“We don’t want to give any reason for tenants to leave these older buildings,” said J. Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., who lobbied unsuccessfully to have Exelon locate its new headquarters in the core business district and was working aggressively in the wake of the announcement to try to reassure downtown business owners that the area is still vibrant.

“The public environments have to be strong and attractive,” he said.

Fowler said the BDC met with partnership officials Friday focusing on presentation of a strategic plan for downtown to city leaders.

Funding that plan, Brodie said, is a key concern.

“We’re looking at a lot of numbers,” Brodie said. “And it’s complicated.”

Tax increment financing districts exist in the city to help developers pay for infrastructure on projects. TIF bonds are sold to private investors, and the proceeds are used to pay for the infrastructure. The bonds are then repaid to the investors over decades from diverted property taxes.

A city task force last year examined public incentives for developers, including TIFs, and issued a slate of recommendations last fall. A work session on the recommendations is scheduled for Thursday at City Hall.

Harbor Point’s TIF includes upgrades at the site, once the location of the Allied Signal Corp. that was deemed toxic property and became a Superfund cleanup site in the early 1990s.

Baltimore has 11 TIF districts, with debt that totals $135 million. Those districts include East Baltimore Development Inc., Clipper Mill, Belvedere Square, Westport and Mondawmin Mall.

H&S Properties is owned by billionaire baker and developer John Paterakis Sr., who founded the H&S Bakery in Fells Point, next to Harbor Point.

Michael Beatty, executive vice president of the H&S Properties, did not return requests to comment Friday.

Brodie said discussions on expanding the TIF intentions at Harbor Point would take place this winter, as Exelon officials said last week development could begin soon if its acquisition of Constellation Energy Group Inc. is approved by Feb. 17. Chicago-based Exelon wants to have the building completed by 2014.

“The administration had been planning before the Exelon thing to return to the City Council this year with details of a specific TIF issue,” Brodie said. “It would be at H&S request.

“At Harbor Point, all the utilities and streets have to be in the layer above the current soil, and that’s an extraordinary situation,” Brodie added. “For that site to be developed, we believe it will require a form of public assistance.”

Fowler said he plans to address the City Council and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake this month after the partnership board meets to discuss which direction to head in a plan to strengthen the central business core. Some of the targets include upgrades to Lexington Market, Hopkins Plaza and along Pratt Street. Already, a $3.5 million upgrade of Preston Gardens along St. Paul Place near Mercy Hospital is underway, Fowler said.

Funding is also an issue, he added, citing possible city, state and federal funds in the form of community development block grants and a new TIF district.

“We don’t really care how these projects are funded as long as they are funded and funded quickly,” he said. “We can’t wait 10-15 years to tackle these projects.”

Rawlings-Blake’s spokesman did not return a request for comment.