Beatty plans to buy the first round of TIF bonds himself, expected to be about $35 million.

Beatty has met with opponents who decry what they see as a giveaway of public funds to little public benefit, particularly to impoverished eastside areas that stand in stark contrast to their glittery new neighbor.

"We did a little more listening. I was never a good listener," Beatty said. "They scream and yell, but sit down with them, they're a lot nicer."

He seems to have partially disarmed some critics, such as Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., pastor of Union Baptist Church, who said that before he met Beatty, he thought, "Here is an opportunistic, nouveau riche developer looking to maximize his successes so far into his own project. My sense was we're going to have a tussle and a fight."

Instead, Hathaway said, Beatty appears open to collaborating with him and other clergy and activists who want the developer to focus on local workers and companies when it comes time to build and staff Harbor Point. Beatty has discussed training programs at Sojourner-Douglass College, for example, that could provide employees for Harbor Point's needs, as well as goals for local and minority hiring and contracting.

"I put my sword back in my sheath and took out my paper and pencil," Hathaway said. "I'm still cautious, but he has been honest, he has been forthright on what he could do and what he couldn't do."

Left unmollified, though, is City Councilman Carl Stokes, who said he has no problem with Harbor Point, just with the idea that it should get public financing at a time when so much of the rest of the city is hurting.

Stokes said Beatty has rejected his appeals for relatively inexpensive gestures in exchange for the hundreds of millions of public assistance that Harbor Point will ultimately receive — a playing field for a nearby elementary school, for example, or some after-school programs.

"I said to Michael, 'Look, what I'm asking you to do is support the neighborhoods nearby that could use some help,'" Stokes said of a dinner meeting he had with Beatty earlier this year. "He looked me in the eye and said, 'I'm not doing anything for anybody.'"

Beatty denied saying that, and Struever, who is close to both and was at the dinner, also said the exchange didn't happen.

Stokes said Beatty knows that Harbor Point has the support of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the majority of the City Council, and that he doesn't have to make concessions to win him over to get the TIF.

"The arrogance of it all — 'We got it, we don't need you,'" Stokes said. "You've been given so much, give a little back."

Beatty would argue that payback for the neighborhood and city comes when Harbor Point rises from the former industrial site, a polluted tract that has been remediated and reborn as a new waterfront neighborhood where people will live, work, shop, play — and pay taxes.

"I believe five years from now people will look back and say that Harbor Point was a really good idea," Beatty said. "I don't see anyone saying Harbor East has been bad for the city."

Beatty likes to walk visitors through the neighborhood, tracing a history that progresses like a Monopoly game board, from the first and relatively modest block through fancier streets that command higher rents, to Harbor East's own Park Place, the gleaming Four Seasons Hotel.

For a city that still embraces a no-frills identity, as a blue-collar kind of town, Harbor East can seem anachronistic — in but not of Baltimore. And yet, surely those are not all tourists or arrivistes shopping at Whole Foods and Lululemon, dining at Ouzo Bay or living in the Spinnaker Bay apartments.

"We need to be much more aspirational," Beatty said, "instead of, 'Baltimore can only get this.'"

While Beatty will tout the practicality of the neighborhood, with its grocery story (albeit one that's nicknamed Whole Paycheck), a CVS, dry cleaners, movie theater and deli, he purposely recruited high-end tenants.

"I would keep calling Neiman Marcus, Saks, the Four Seasons," he said. "Finally in '03, the Four Seasons called back."

On a recent walk through Harbor East, Beatty embodies the mix of aspirational and practical that he espouses. He is wearing a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, khaki-colored jeans and an orange Hermes tie. As he walks around, he's recognized by doormen and security guards but not necessarily the passersby enjoying the neighborhood he helped develop.