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Protesters seek Superblock jobs promise

A group of about 100 protestors gathered at the offices of the Baltimore Development Corp. at Charles Center Wednesday to demand local hiring in the promised 600 new jobs at the $150 million Superblock development downtown.

Protesters led by Community Churches United demonstrate outside the Baltimore Development Corp. offices Wednesday. They want half of the 600 jobs at the Superblock project to go to local residents.

Chanting “We want jobs” and “Our community, our jobs,” the protestors demanded to be included in the planning for the Lexington Square project, now underway as a request for a 95 percent property tax break for two decades is set for a public hearing at City Hall at 5 p.m. on July 11.

“We want them to hire locally for half of the 600 jobs,” said Richie Armstrong, an organizer with Community Churches United, a grassroots organization affiliated with the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which led the protest. “They are in a perfect position to sit down at the table and work something out. The ground hasn’t even broken yet.”

The Superblock project would receive $17.6 million under the proposed PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, according to current assessments, BDC officials have said. The developers in April were given until the end of the year to present financing plans to the city.

The City Council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee will hold the hearing on the proposed PILOT next month. The tax break would cover a 650-space parking garage and a 296-unit apartment tower at the site. In addition, the developers are expected to apply for state enterprise zone tax credits to help pay for construction of 178,000 square feet of retail space there.

The Superblock is located at Lexington, Liberty, Howard and Fayette streets on the city’s West Side.

M. J. “Jay” Brodie, president of the BDC, was not in his office when the protest began, and said later that a workforce inclusion plan is being worked out with the developers, Atlanta and New York-based Lexington Square Partners.

“They are entitled to their views,” Brodie said of the protestors. “The developer is reaching out to a number of people in the community and working on an economic inclusion plan which includes addressing the city’s MBE and WBE goals. But it goes further than that — they are also working with several pastors.”

Brodie said the plan is expected to be completed in July and will be presented to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and members of the City Council at a venue “to be determined.”

Brodie said he had seen a draft of the economic inclusion report and that “it goes further than any such plan I’ve ever experienced in a major development.”

Armstrong said Kathy Robertson, who headed the West Side initiative for BDC, had met the BCCU officials at a city Planning Commission meeting in late May and pledged to respond to their requests for a formal meeting. But that meeting never occurred, and Robertson has since resigned from the BDC.

Armstrong also said that two meetings with Bailey T. Pope, an architect and senior vice president for the Atlanta-based Dawson Company, part of the development team, had been canceled by Pope.

According to his local public relations firm, Pope was in meetings all day, but the firm released a statement from him, saying:

“The Dawson Company has been working with a range of community groups for more than a year on an agreement to ensure that the Lexington Square project benefits citizens of Baltimore City through jobs, contracting and other opportunities. This kind of comprehensive inclusion program is a core value for the Dawson Company, a second-generation African American-owned business, and is part of all our projects whether or not there is any public participation.

“One of our primary partners in this effort has been Community Churches for Community Development, who were highly recommended to us based on their long standing effectiveness on improving social and economic conditions for vulnerable populations in Baltimore.

“Outside of once receiving a business card from a person from Baltimore Churches & Community United after a public hearing, Bailey Pope has not had any contact with anyone representing that organization.”

Daniel Rockwell, a 36-year-old West Baltimore resident and construction worker, said he turned out to protest at Charles Center because he had been out of work for a year and a half.

“I am here because I am trying to move forward and get a job,” Rockwell said.