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Fowler: Economic report shows downtown Baltimore’s contributions

Kirby Fowler

Kirby Fowler, president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore (The Daily Record/Rich Dennison)

A Downtown Partnership of Baltimore report found that the core of the city more than carries its fair share of the tax burden, the group’s president said.

The Economic Impact of Downtown Baltimore report, Kirby Fowler, the organization’s president, rebuts the perception that the traditional central business district takes more than it provides the city, said Kirby Fowler, the organization’s president.

“Because so much development activity is happening in downtown, and some of it is dependent on tax credits, it’s incumbent upon us to show the other side of the ledger, to show how much money is being generated as a result of the investments being made by the private sector with some public catalyst money in downtown,” Fowler said.

Various projects downtown have benefited from development incentives ranging from tax credits for converting office space to apartments to public financing for infrastructure work.

Partnership staff, with assistance from city agencies, compiled the Goldseker Foundation-funded report. Areas within a one mile circular radius with a center point of Pratt and Light streets were included in the findings.

Activists and liberal groups in Baltimore have criticized city government for focusing development efforts on downtown and along the waterfront. Those groups argue that emphasis should be placed on the city’s poor, primarily black neighborhoods. Mayor Catherine Pugh, who took office last month, has said downtown is an important part of the city but stressed her desire to stimulate development in all of Baltimore’s neighborhoods.

According to the partnership’s report, downtown residential and commercial property owners contribute 17.3 percent of Baltimore’s real property tax yield. That’s from a section of the city that represents 3.8 percent of the city’s total land area. Hotels in downtown also provided more than 85 percent of the city’s tax yield from those businesses.

Meanwhile, residents in the area’s 19,000 households contribute roughly $44.5 million in income tax. That’s 15.9 percent of total income tax yield in Baltimore. The downtown area also kicks in more than 75 percent, about $22 million, of the city’s parking tax yield.

The partnership’s report, Fowler said, also highlighted the diversity of the people who work and live in the neighborhood. He argued that the demographic information shows downtown is one the city’s most diverse neighborhoods.

“Some activists have stated that downtown is all white. In fact it’s the other way. I think there’s a narrative … that some people want to tell that is not accurate,” Fowler said. “In fact, I think the story is much more positive … you do not have many places in the city, if at all, with this type of balance in terms of population.”

Following the Freddie Gray riots in April 2015, some residents portrayed downtown as a white enclave that receives more than its fair share of city resources and development incentives.

Whites, at 50.42 percent of the population, make up the majority of residents downtown. Blacks represent nearly 39 percent of downtown’s population, with Asians the next largest group at 6.65 percent. Baltimore’s overall population, according to 2010 U.S. Census figures, is nearly 64 percent black, about 29 percent white and slightly more than 4 percent Hispanic or Latino.

The report also found that 57 percent of downtown employees are white, 37 percent black and 6 percent identify as a variety of minorities. But of those employees only 32 percent are from the city and the remaining 67.4 percent come from other suburban areas. Less than 1 percent travel from Washington.