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Sagamore, neighborhood groups unveil nearly $40M community benefits agreement

Partnership comes as $5.5 billion Port Covington project nears key votes

Tom Geddes, ceo of plank industries speaking at the announcement of the long term partnership and community benefits agreement between sagamore development and the SB6 Coalition. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Tom Geddes, CEO of Plank Industries, speaks at the announcement of the long-term partnership and community benefits agreement between Sagamore Development Co. and the SB6 Coalition. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Leaders of community groups in six south Baltimore neighborhoods and the developer of the $5.5 billion Port Covington project have agreed to a partnership that will pour tens of millions of dollars into those communities over the next decades, officials announced Thursday morning.

But one outspoken critic of the project says that while the agreement is a good first step, it doesn’t erase his concerns.

Sagamore Development Co. said it would provide $10 million over the next five years to an entity that will be set up with civic leaders from the so-called South Baltimore Six Communities — Brooklyn, Cherry Hill, Curtis Bay, Lakeland, Mt. Winans and Westport — for community projects. Additionally, Sagamore will work with those communities to raise an additional $10 million over the ensuing five years.

Additional funds will also be generated for the partnership through annual fees and surcharges stemming from the Port Covington development over the life of the tax increment financing bonds Sagamore is seeking to support the project.

Two-thirds of those revenues — at least $19 million projected over the development’s first 20 years — all also fund the SB6 priorities, while the other third will support citywide initiatives, officials said.

“This is not a one-time deal.  This funding mechanism will still be in place when I am almost 70 years old,” said Tom Geddes, CEO of Sagamore’s parent company, Plank Industries, who added that he’s currently only 38.

The money would be used to address a variety of needs in the communities, including playgrounds and rec centers, youth employment, job training, business development, job centers and affordable housing, officials said.

Thursday’s announcement in Cherry Hill is likely to defuse at least some of the community fears that the $5.5 billion Port Covington project — which is heavily dependent on $535 million in public financing for infrastructure improvements — would not provide benefits to neighboring communities.

“It looks like a pretty exciting, fairly good deal for the SB6,” said Lawrence Brown, an assistant professor of community health and policy at Morgan State University who has been critical of the project, arguing that tax increment financing plans have historically contributed to residential segregation.

A citywide benefit agreement — which includes more than $10 million from Sagamore over five years to fund youth programs and commitments related to local hiring and contractor diversity — is “wholly inadequate” and won’t draw a large enough African-American population to the development, Brown said.

Sagamore wants to build as many as 13,500 residential units in Port Covington, but Brown would like to see about 3,000 of those set aside for families with housing vouchers in order to help ensure adequate racial diversity.

Baltimore and Sagamore have agreed to a goal of making 10 percent of the residences in the development available to families making less than 80 percent of the median household income in the area.

Among those in attendance at Thursday morning’s announcement were Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Jack Young and Alicia Wilson, vice president of community affairs for Sagamore.

“This is a deal that we believe benefits all of Baltimore City, particularly this area of South Baltimore,” said Michael Middleton, chairman of the Cherry Hill Community Coalition, who also spoke at the announcement. The agreement was a chance for the communities to be partners with Sagamore rather than just be the recipients of philanthropic donations.

Community leaders have been meeting with Sagamore over a period of months to hash out the agreement, Middleton said.

Sagamore, which is backed by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, plans on turning the largely underutilized industrial land in Port Covington into a mixed-use development. Plans for the roughly 260 acres of land call for residential units, 200 hotel rooms, 1.5 million square feet of office space and acres of parks. Under Armour also plans to independently build a 3.9-million-square-foot global headquarters on the Port Covington peninsula.

The project has been hailed by its supporters as an economic and jobs bonanza for the city on a scale commensurate with the development of the Inner Harbor decades ago.

A City Council committee is scheduled on July 27 to hold its first hearing on a package of bills granting Sagamore $535 million in public financing for the project. The tax increment financing — known as TIF bonds — are repaid with increases in property taxes from the development.

The $535 million in tax increment financing, over a 25-year period, would be the largest such use of the financing mechanism in Baltimore history. Sagamore is also seeking $573 million in state and federal funding to aid the development.