Despite calls for the current Baltimore City Council to hold off considering legislation for $535 million in public financing for the proposed $5.5 billion redevelopment of Port Covington, the legislative body is poised to take up the issue before its term concludes.
Councilman Carl Stokes, chairman of the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee, which reviews tax increment financing legislation, said the current council should review the legislative package. Opponents characterize the public financing proposal as a giveaway to Sagamore Development, which is backed by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.
Sagamore has proposed building 1.5 million square feet of office space, 200 hotel rooms and 7,500 residential units on 260 acres of underutilized industrial property. Under Amour also intends to build, independently, a 3.9 million-square-foot global headquarters of 50 acres of land on the peninsula.
Stokes, who lost his bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor, and whose term is up in December, said the council is unlikely to take up the legislation until this fall. He also promised to hold thorough hearings on the proposal, and indicated that even if the current council considers the legislative package, there’s no guarantee it would be fully vetted before the term expires.
“Let us have this… TIF request, and let us vet it,” Stokes said. “We’re not dead yet, OK? We’re called the lame duck but we’re not the lame duck until the November election, we’re still alive here.”
The legislation is currently under consideration by the Board of Finance, which, on May 9, is expected to give its approval for the package to be introduced into the council. Tax increment financing requires the city to issue bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements associated with a development. Those bonds are then repaid with increased property tax revenues from buildings in the designated development area.
Activists, community groups and unions held a news conference and protest outside City Hall on Thursday demanding City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young agree to slow down the council’s vetting process.
They also submitted a letter to Young’s office asking the council to put off considering the legislative package until the new council is seated.
‘Up to the task’
Come December, there will also be eight new members of the council, which is consists of 14 lawmakers and the president. There will also be a new mayor, who will ultimately decide whether to sign off on the financing package.
“So, we’re here today to ask Council President Jack Young to please slow down this process,” said Charly Carter, executive director of Maryland Working Families. “We’re asking him to put a moratorium on this process until there’s more transparency, there’s more accountability and that the people of Baltimore know for sure that this is a good deal. Right now, it’s a bad deal for Baltimore’s taxpayers.”
Young, according to spokesman Lester Davis, is on board with the current council making the decision on the proposed public financing.
“The folks here already are up to the task,” Davis said.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who won the Democratic nomination to retain her seat in District 14, said there needs to be lengthy negotiations regarding hiring and affordable housing as part of the tax increment financing negotiations. But she also believes the current council should address tax increment financing.
“I’m expecting it to be before the City Council in May and I don’t see any reason we can’t address it in this term of the council,” Clarke said.
But some of those likely to join the council following the November elections argue their voices should be heard on a project that will have a massive impact on the city they intend to help govern for the next four years.
John Bullock, who defeated sitting Councilman William “Pete” Welch in District 9 for the Democratic nomination, signed the letter sent to Young asking him to not take any action on Port Covington for the remainder of the term.
“I’d like to be able to weigh in on it,” said Bullock, an assistant professor of political science at Towson University.
Zeke Cohen, the Democratic nominee in District 1, attended the protest and made it clear he feels the decision should be left up to the new council.
“That’s my concern with this deal is that I don’t know the facts, and I don’t think we the public know the facts and we deserve to know before it goes through,” he said.
But that timeline does not mesh with what the developer says it needs.
Marc Weller, president of Sagamore Development, has previously said that they need the public financing approved by the end of the year so it can break ground on the project by 2017 to keep up with Under Armour’s growth.
“It’s not an ultimatum at all, it’s a statement, and it’s that for Under Armour to grow here, and to keep pace here in Maryland, we would need to have buildings delivered in a time frame, which leads back to having the TIF approved and through the City Council by the end of the year,” Weller said in March.