One city councilman calls Port Covington a “greased deal” | WYPR

One city councilman calls Port Covington a “greased deal”

Jul 14, 2016

The entrance to Under Armour's headquarters in Locust Point.

Baltimore City’s Planning Commission is to take up later today Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s controversial proposal to develop 160 acres of Port Covington, a massive $5.5 billion project that relies heavily on city financing. The deal is so complicated that even officials who are studying it can’t agree if the city is about to give Sagamore, Kevin Plank’s private development company, a huge tax break or not.

City Councilman Carl Stokes says it is a massive tax break, but he also says he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote on the project. Still, he expects the council give it the green light later this year. He calls it a “greased deal” because city officials have said they will get it done.

City Councilman Eric Costello, who represents the neighborhoods around Port Covington says it’s not a tax break. And he supports the project.

The controversy swirls around $1.1 billion in public financing, nearly half of which--$535 million—involves a TIF, or tax increment financing, arrangement.

The city would sell that much in bonds and the bonds would be paid back with the property taxes the project generates, not from the city’s general fund. Costello says the TIF money would pay for horizontal development; “infrastructure like roads, sidewalks, bridges, medians, trees.”

Once the infrastructure is in place, Sagamore can go vertical with the buildings, and that will generate the tax money to pay off the bonds. Once that happens, around 2040, then the taxes from Port Covington would go to the city.

So Costello says that means Sagamore is not getting a tax break. But Stokes disagrees.

For one thing, he says, the city will have to maintain the site with services like “policing, fire, recreation, maintenance of the trees and the parkland, snow removal” until the project begins generating tax revenue, which will be years.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake said in a statement to WYPR, she supports the project because it will mean thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues. The mayor also says the TIF bonds will not be issued all at once, and will be reviewed each time.

Although Stokes says he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote, he also says the job now is to cut the best deal for Baltimore.

The Greater Baltimore Urban League held a forum in West Baltimore this week to find out what people want from the deal. Arlene Fisher, President of the Lafayette Square Association in Harlem Park, said she wants affordable housing.

Sagamore is promising 10 percent of the housing will be affordable. Fisher says it should be 20 percent, at least.

“I don’t want this to be a gated community and we fund it,” she said.

Also this week, the organization BUILD, Baltimoreans United for Leadership Development, called for Sagamore to give 51 percent of all jobs at Port Covington to city residents. And they want that in writing.

BUILD Co-Chair Reverend Andrew Foster Connors said lots of good jobs were promised in past projects.

“Now what did these projects all have in common,” he asked. “Goals but no guarantees. Promises that were never kept. And lost opportunities to indeed build one Baltimore.”

Alicia Wilson, Vice-President for Community Affairs for Sagamore, says a city-wide workforce development plan will be unveiled in a week or two.

“If people can be employed in this city, in good paying jobs, to allow for them whether they live in West Baltimore, East Baltimore, South Baltimore, if they are employed and progressive, that is the biggest benefit I think you can give to this city,” Wilson said.

Plank plans to move Under Armour’s headquarters to Port Covington, as well as to uild stores, a hotel, businesses and 7,500 residences.