The $10B plan to revitalize is up for debate today | WYPR

The $10B plan to revitalize is up for debate today

Jul 27, 2017

A City Council committee to hear a $10 billion plan to revitalize the city today.

A plan to revitalize Baltimore is set to land at the City Council today. It comes with the price tag of $10 billion, and no one knows where that money would come from. 

"And every traffic light I stopped at I'd look over and there is a bench that says, 'Baltimore the Greatest City in America,'"says Kahan Dhillon, the architect of the Baltimore Renaissance Project.  "It's an oxymoron because everybody sitting on the bench doesn't look like they are doing so great."

While Dhillon hasn't developed anything in Baltimore previously, he was the main developer for Tyson's Corner in Virginia. 

"Realistic, bankable, doable plans," said Dhillon. But the question remains, what is the plan?

So far we know that the plan would create five new development sites in each of the council districts. In this plan the sites would be chosen by the community through meetings and public outreach. Dhillon says that community involvement is key for his plan to work. 

Dhillon says he is so committed to the idea of community development that he even reached out to Carol Ott, the director of Baltimore's Housing Policy Watch. Ott says involving the community sounds great, but she is worried that communities won't really be heard. And she says there will be no real measures in place to avoid gentrification of neighborhoods. 

Dhillon would not be "responsible for what other property owners and other developers do across the street, around the corner, or down the block," says Ott. "And so that was a little unsettling because that is how gentrification happens."

Housing policy expert, Zach Murray from Baltimore Policy Action Forum, agrees with Ott.

"I support the idea of developing a broad vision for the city as a whole as to how we will redevelop," says Murray. "That doesn't leave out communities."

But, says Murray, having five sites per district may not be equitable development and meet the needs of the distinct communities. 

"For example, district seven has been significantly more underdeveloped than some of the council districts like district one," says Murray.

Murray also says that Dhillon's plan to create a private entity for development when the city already has the Baltimore Development Corporation is redundant and could cost the city more in the long-haul.

"There are no development standards." Murray says that is the overarching problem with development in the city. "And so developers can come in and say this is what we want from the city and it is dependent on the strength of the community as to whether those developers are held to any standards."

Dhillon's project would seek $3 million for the planning phase to begin that would go to the private boards for each district. The funds would pay for employees and to do outreach to the community which Carol Ott says could get messy.

"You can kind of get into a situation where there are too many cooks in the kitchen," says Ott. "And then nothing is actually being prepared."

With that said, Ott gives Dhillon a word of advice for his hearing. 

"You've got to have data and you've got to be able to show your data," says Ott. "People on some level appreciate when you are able to be forthright and just answer their questions. For me that always gets my respect."

Yet, Kahan Dhillon insists that his plan is a "win-win for everybody."

"This is a bullet proof plan inside and out," says Dhillon.

It may be a bullet proof plan, if we can find the $10 billion to fund it.