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REAL ESTATE INSIDER

Activists portray Port Covington project as racist

The subtext of opposition to Sagamore Development Co. receiving public financing to overhaul Port Covington is that it’s a development exclusively for rich white people being subsidized at the expense of the city’s majority black residents.

Attorney Jon Laria, who represents Sagamore Development Co., speaks with City Councilman Carl Stokes at a hearing last week on the developer’s request for tax increment financing to build infrastructure improvements at Port Covington. (Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

Attorney Jon Laria, who represents Sagamore Development Co., speaks with City Councilman Carl Stokes at a hearing last week on the developer’s request for tax increment financing to build infrastructure improvements at Port Covington. (Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

But during a Baltimore City Council committee work session at City Hall Tuesday, the subtext became overt. Activists portrayed the $5.5 billion redevelopment proposal as being little more than another segregated development benefitting from public largesse.

“The city should really not be in the business of subsidizing exclusive enclaves,” Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, co-chairman of activist group BUILD, said.

Sagamore, which is backed by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, has proposed building 14,500 residential units, 1.5 million square feet of office space and 200 hotel rooms on about 260 acres of underutilized industrial land in south Baltimore. Under Armour also intends to independently build a 3.9-million-square-foot global headquarters.

Sagamore is seeking roughly $660 million in tax increment financing to pay for roads, sewers and public parks that are part of the redevelopment plans. Tax increment financing works by the city issuing bonds to cover the developer’s cost for building public infrastructure that is hopefully paid back by increased property tax revenues from the project.

In exchange for the largest tax increment financing package in the city’s history, activists are seeking concessions from Sagamore on several fronts, including affordable housing, profit sharing and workforce development.

During the work session, which was focusing primarily on affordable housing and profit sharing, tensions ran high.

At one point, an exchange between Connors and Jon Laria, a partner at Ballard Spahr LLP who is representing Sagamore, about whether black residents would use amenities such as kayak launches, led to loud jeers and cheering. In a bid to restore order Councilman Carl Stokes, chairman of the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee, threatened to have booing audience members removed from the session.

Activist Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon, sitting in the audience, then erupted and began screaming at Stokes and Sagamore’s representatives.

“East Baltimore and west Baltimore should not have to pay for the convenience of rich white people,” Witherspoon shouted before leaving the room.

After returning order to the session, Stokes said black children are routinely harassed in areas like Harbor Place, and expressed concern that Port Covington would be more of the same.

“The point is clear, very clear, we’re a divided city intentionally,” he said.

Eventually Sagamore, BUILD and other activists groups agreed to meet Wednesday morning at City Hall to start private negotiations that could lead to a community benefits agreement. Stokes said he hoped a closed session, without news media in the room, would reduce posturing and allow for more serious discussions.

But only time will tell — after such inflammatory charges were exchanged publicly — if enough good will remains between both sides so that a meaningful compromise can be reached.

Do you have real estate news to share? Contact Adam Bednar at adam.bednar@thedailyrecord.com.


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