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Community requests Harbor Point share its tax benefit

A crowd of nearly 150 — many of them residents of public housing and local clergy — packed the chambers of the Baltimore City Council Wednesday for a committee hearing on a set of tax breaks totaling $88 million for a waterfront development where the energy giant Exelon Corp. plans to locate its local headquarters.

Councilman Carl stokes shakes hands with Denise Street, Perkins Homes resident, while welcoming people into the City Council chambers.

Wearing T-shirts that said: “Michael Beatty got an $88 million tax break and all I got was this damn T-shirt,” residents of Perkins Homes arrived in buses and vans to City Hall to protest the public subsidies for the luxury development.

“If he’s using Perkins Homes as a tax break, why shouldn’t Perkins Homes get some of that money?” said Roxanne German, a resident of the upper Fells Point public housing community.

“I want you to abolish the Baltimore Development Corp.,” said community activist Kim Truehart, as the room applauded.

“Everything said tonight is very important to us,” said Bertha McCormick, a 40-year resident of Perkins Homes and president of the tenant council. “Mr. Beatty has got enough money that he can help all of East Baltimore. You’ve got to share the wealth. Come to our community; we’re not going to give you no disease. Help us out. That’s all we ask.”

At issue was a set of state Enterprise Zone tax credits awarded by the City Council last fall to the Beatty Development Group LLC for the $1 billion Harbor Point project.

Perkins Homes was added to a city EZ map by the Baltimore Development Corp. after the tax-break request by developer Michael Beatty was rejected in spring 2012 when data from the 2010 U.S. Census showed demographics of Harbor East area were too wealthy to qualify for the breaks designed to help spur development in distressed or low-income areas.

But Beatty appealed, and BDC officials altered the city’s Enterprise Zone boundaries to include Perkins Homes, paving the way for an $88.4 million state tax break.

“Once again, a developer has come to us with another sweetheart deal for Baltimore,” said Bishop Douglas Miles, of the BUILD community organization in the city. “Mr. Beatty, the BDC and the council should be ashamed for gerrymandering the enterprise zones. In the wake of the Fourth of July, this is taxation without representation.

“This tale of two cities must end.”

Rev. Marshall Prentice, pastor of Zion Baptist Church, which brought protestors to City Hall on the church’s motor coach, urged the City Council to “do the right thing” and endorse a resolution introduced by Councilman Carl Stokes seeking an agreement from Beatty to donate 30 percent of his tax savings — roughly $26.5 million — from the EZ to Perkins Homes residents.

“There should never be subsidies without responsibilities,” Prentice said, as those in the room cheered. “Mr. Beatty, won’t you listen? If not, this is modern-day slavery.”

The redrawn map prompted the resolution by Stokes, supported by three other council members.

At the hearing, only three other members of the council were in attendance, President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Rochelle “Rikki” Spector and Warren Branch. All declined to give testimony.

Brenda McKenzie, president of the BDC, pledged to meet with Stokes and the community to forge a benefits agreement that would include mandatory hiring and job training.

“For me, this project represents a particular opportunity for jobs,” McKenzie said during brief testimony. “At the end of the day, more of those jobs are possible if the project is built.”

Beatty met with clergy members on Wednesday to discuss possible job training and hiring mandates, said Rev. Alvin Hathaway Sr., pastor of Union Baptist Church.

“We will continue in negotiations with them,” Hathaway testified.

Stokes asked the Perkins Homes residents in the hearing room if Beatty had met with them regarding the Harbor Point project. They responded he had not.

In addition, Beatty was not present at the hearing.

“You can’t script this,” Stokes said of the hearing. “It’s a damn shame he didn’t walk his behind in here tonight.”

In a statement emailed to The Daily Record Tuesday night, Beatty Development Group Vice President Marco Greenberg wrote: “We are committed to working with the mayor, council president and community leaders to ensure that local businesses and local residents benefit from the billion-dollar investment and thousands of jobs Harbor Point will create.”

About 3 million square feet of office, retail, residential and park space is planned for development by Beatty at the 27-acre site. Among the first buildings planned to go up in the development — expected to span at least a dozen years — is a 23-story glass and steel tower that will serve as headquarters and a trading floor for Exelon.

The EZ tax credits are not the only public incentive for the Harbor Point site.

Beatty has requested a $107 million tax increment financing break from the city. That request will be aired during a hearing before the City Council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee in a public hearing on July 17.

Together, the Harbor Point tax credits — the EZ and the TIF — total $195.4 million. The project will also receive a $24.4 million brownfield tax credit because the site was once heavily polluted with toxic waste when it housed the Allied Signal Chemical plant.