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Young urges Sagamore to cut deals with unions, BUILD on Port Covington TIF

Port Covington developer says new union TV ad is 'inaccurate,' and leads to 'mistrust'

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said Wednesday evening he wanted to see the developers of Port Covington cut deals with local unions and community organization BUILD before approving $660 million in public financing for the waterfront project. 

In front of an audience of about 300 people at the War Memorial Building in Baltimore, Young indicated he wanted to see the various interests hammer out a deal. Young's spokesman, Lester Davis, said afterward that the council president wants to see a deal in which "no one gets 100 percent of what they want" and all sides reach a compromise.

The Port Covington project, which is being proposed by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's Sagamore Development Company, is expected to be a $5.5 billion development that employs thousands in South Baltimore. 

Sagamore has offered to pay prevailing wages -- about equal to union wages -- on a quarter of the infrastructure work on the site. But some unions say that's not good enough. They want the company to guarantee higher portions of the work are dedicated for union employees. 

The group Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) is demanding a public profit-sharing agreement between the developer and the city, a 51 percent local hiring guarantee for all jobs related to the deal and a commitment that the city be reimbursed any state school aid it loses because the project increases local wealth, a factor in the state's formula for determining aid.

Dozens testified Wednesday both for and against the deal.

"Port Covington represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity," said Mike Henderson, the president of Associated Builders and Contractors, which supports the proposal.

But Jane Henderson of the activist group Communities United said the organization, which represents low-income Baltimoreans, has "profound concerns" about the development.

"It does not benefit all of Baltimore," she said. "We believe Sagamore's proposal will build a white, wealthy enclave that leaves most of Baltimore out."

Charly Carter, director of Maryland Working Families, urged the council to add provisions to the deal to hold city schools harmless if a wealth increase at Port Covington leads to a reduction in state aid for city schools. City officials are projecting that, based on current state funding forumulas, the Port Covington deal could lead to a loss in $315 million for city schools over 40 years.

"The state is not going to bail us out," Carter warned.

Michael Middleton, chairman of the Cherry Hill Community Coalition, which is one of six communities to enter into a multi-million community benefits agreement with Sagamore, urged poor Baltimore neighborhoods not to fight each other. He said embracing Port Covington will lead to progress in South Baltimore.

"I'm not going to fight other poor communities," he said. "I won't have us arguing over scraps."

After two lengthy hearings during which more than 100 people signed up to testify both for and against the proposal, the City Council will begin holding work sessions on bills authorizing a special tax deal for Port Covington. The first work session on the bills will be held Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 4 p.m. 

Sagamore has proposed a waterfront development that would include a new headquarters for Under Armour, restaurants, shops, housing and a manufacturing plant, among other features. The company has asked the city to float $660 million in bonds to build infrastructure for the project. It would be the largest such deal in Baltimore's history. Taxes paid by the developer in the future would go toward repaying the bonds.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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