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City spending board approves Harbor Point agreements

FinanceBaltimore Development CorporationGeorge NilsonBernard C. YoungExelon Corp.Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

City officials formally approved agreements Wednesday with the developer of the $1.8 billion Harbor Point project over the protests of Comptroller Joan M. Pratt.

The Board of Estimates approval, which was expected, will allow the city to eventually issue $107 million in bonds that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other proponents say are necessary to help finance the improvements.

Pratt said she's eager for the development — the future home of Exelon Corp.'s regional headquarters, 900 apartments, stores, a hotel and five parks between Harbor East and Fells Point — but wanted the city to have more assurance that taxpayers would receive a return on their investment.

The city should have secured a binding commitment from developer Michael S. Beatty that the project would create the promised 17,000 jobs or face penalties, Pratt said.

"What we've done is, we've accepted voluntary job goals, but they're not enforceable," she said.

The board voted 4-1 with yes votes coming from the mayor, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, City Solicitor George Nilson and Public Works Director Alfred H. Foxx Jr.

The city has agreed to provide $36 million in bonds as the first phase of a $107 million tax increment financing plan for the project at a former chemical plant site.

Proceeds from the sale of the bonds will be used for improvements on the property, including the construction of roads and parks. Future property taxes generated by the development are to pay off the bonds.

In all, the project is to receive about $400 million in public subsidies. In return for the investment, about $18.5 million is expected to be generated annually in taxes.

Rawlings-Blake said the development will be a boon to the city.

"It is millions in new tax revenue. It is public space for all of Baltimore to enjoy. It is residents, it is opportunities for jobs," the mayor said. "We have to continue to think of ways to add to the job base. If we can use a financial tool, a subsidy, to create all of those things, that is what I believe we're called to do."

Pratt said she also is concerned because she didn't receive the agreements — five in all, a total of 158 pages — until Thursday and was denied access to the full site appraisal, which she said was deemed confidential by M&T Bank.

The city should have secured a greater share of future profits, Pratt said. The profit-sharing agreement kicks in only after the developer collects a 20 percent rate of return, she said. After the developer achieves that, the city would receive 15 percent of the excess.

"It is unlikely in today's market, and in the foreseeable future, that the developer will recognize a 20 percent return, which means the city will most likely not receive any profit," Pratt said.

Pratt quizzed Darrell Doan, director for real estate development for the Baltimore Development Corp., about the project. Doan said the Harbor Point "simply could not proceed" without the public investment.

"In short, it will ensure we are doing everything we can from an economic development standpoint to grow Baltimore," Doan said.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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