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Does public financing of developments cause segregation in Baltimore?

Does public financing of developments cause segregation in Baltimore?

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A local professor who studies urban issues argues Baltimore is a segregated city and that condition is being exacerbated by certain tools used to publicly finance development projects.

Lawrence Brown, of the Baltimore Redevelopment Action Coalition for Empowerment and an assistant professor at Morgan State University, made his argument during a protest in front of City Hall on Thursday. The protest was organized by a variety of labor unions and activist groups aligned against the use of $535 million in tax increment financing for the proposed $5.5 billion redevelopment of Port Covington.

“And the reason why we have such a segregated city is because we use these tax increment financing deals to build up what is called the ‘White L’ at the expense of black neighborhoods that are in the ‘Black Butterfly,’” Brown said, using terms that reflect different geographic racial concentrations in Baltimore.

He portrayed the proposed development as another luxury development in the north, central and southeast portions of the city where white residents live and black residents cannot afford.

“Something is wrong with us today, Baltimore. Where we cannot admit that we are living in a segregated city, two separate cities, separate and apart, ‘Black Butterfly’ and the ‘White L,’ and something has to happen … to change it,” Brown said.

Sagamore Development Co., which is backed by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, is seeking $535 million in tax increment financing to pay for infrastructure improvements as part of the redevelopment of Port Covington, a largely underutilized industrial area in South Baltimore.

Using this tool the city would issue bonds over a 25-year period to pay for infrastructure on the roughly 260 acres at Port Covington. The bonds would be repaid through property tax increases associated with building 1.5 million square feet of office space, 200 hotel rooms and 7,500 residential units.  Under Armour also intends to build, independently, a 3.9 million-square-foot global headquarters on 50 adjacent acres at Port Covington, but tax increment financing dollars would not be used for that portion of the project.

Sagamore and the project’s supporters argue the new development will result in new jobs, housing and economic development opportunities for all Baltimore residents.

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