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BDC says Stokes spreading misleading information about Harbor Point

The Baltimore Development Corp. has accused City Councilman Carl Stokes of spreading misleading information about the $1 billion Harbor Point development and how it qualified for tax breaks meant for impoverished areas.

Stokes, chairman of the City Council's taxation committee, has been critical of the way the city's quasi-public development arm drew its new Enterprise Zone map, allowing the developers of Harbor Point to benefit from a projected $88 million in property tax credits.

He contends the development — which wouldn't have qualified for the tax credits on its own — was only able to qualify because of the way the map is drawn to include the poverty-stricken census tract where the Perkins Homes public housing development is located.

The arguments are the latest salvos in a debate over city incentives for the $1 billion Harbor Point, a waterfront project between Harbor East and Fells Point. Once complete, it would house a regional headquarters for the energy giant Exelon Corp.

Brenda McKenzie, president of the BDC, said in a June 28 letter that Stokes is spreading misinformation about how the development qualified for inclusion in the Enterprise Zone. Census data from the nearby Perkins Homes has been included in the zone for at least 10 years and was not recently added to benefit Harbor Point, she wrote.

"We ask that the ongoing narrative regarding Harbor Point no longer include assertions that census tract lines were adjusted (they were not) or demographics were adjusted to include Perkins Homes, as they were not," McKenzie wrote.

Stokes has introduced a resolution — backed by four other council members — asking Michael S. Beatty's Harbor Point Development Group LLC to give 30 percent of its Enterprise Zone property tax savings to the people of Perkins Homes.

"To do any thing less would be to expose their Enterprise Zone application as a sham; and would raise serious questions about whether it is truly in the city's best interests to continue to support the Harbor Point development," Stokes' resolution states. A resolution does not carry the weight of law.

McKenzie, president of the BDC wrote that Stokes' resolution could undermine a project that city officials say will create jobs and spur economic activity.

"Placing a requirement on the Harbor Point developer to allocate a portion of the foregone property tax revenue will stymie and deter investment," she wrote.

Ryan O'Doherty, spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said poverty in the city's Enterprise Zone, which runs through neighborhoods throughout Baltimore, is calculated as a whole, meaning one development can't take advantage of another area's poverty.

"You could add the entire city to the Enterprise Zone, and it would qualify," he said. "Councilman Stokes' allegation doesn't stand up when you look at the facts. Misinformation doesn't create jobs."

But Stokes said the Rawlings-Blake administration is missing the larger point — that a development projected to make tens of millions of dollars in profit is still benefiting from the poverty of the poorer parts of Baltimore, including the Perkins Homes.

"I think the letter was diversionary and disingenuous," he said. "Economic inclusion should happen here, because it's the intent of the program."

Harbor Point also would be home to a Morgan Stanley facility and feature office buildings, residential towers, stores and a hotel.

Currently, the site is assessed at $10 million, but the BDC projects it would be valued at $1.8 billion for tax purposes when completed. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said the Harbor Point project would create about 7,200 construction jobs and that roughly 9,200 jobs would be supported by the businesses that move in.

A hearing on Stokes' resolution is scheduled for July 10.

luke.broadwater@baltsun.com

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