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Baltimore approves Port Covington housing, hiring deals over objections

BOE approves Port Covington deals for housing, hiring after unruly session.

The real estate firm redeveloping Port Covington, which is seeking a record amount of public financing for its multibillion-dollar South Baltimore project, has agreed to what supporters called unprecedented local hiring commitments.

Sagamore Development Co. LLC, the real estate firm owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, has also promised to work with a diverse group of companies and include affordable housing under the terms of three agreements with the city that the Board of Estimates approved Wednesday by a 3-2 vote.

"With the approval of these agreements, the city will begin realizing these benefits now," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. "Sagamore Development has committed more than what was required and then some."

But critics said the deals have been fast-tracked through city processes and do not do enough for Baltimore's working poor and middle class, given Sagamore's request for roughly a half-billion dollars in city support.

"Let me be clear: I believe the Port Covington project could be a game-changer for the entire city of Baltimore," said City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who voted against the agreements. "That's why I'm so disappointed. ... The agreements negotiated by the administration lack boldness and vision, and boldness and vision are required for a project of this size."

Rawlings-Blake, City Solicitor George Nilson and Public Works Director Rudolph S. Chow voted in favor of the agreements. Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt voted against them.

Under the agreements, Sagamore, the master developer and owner of about 160 acres in Port Covington, said it will aim to ensure that at least 20 percent of the employees at the site live in Baltimore.

The goal is on top of the requirements the company faces under the local-hire law the City Council passed in 2013, which requires projects that receive public support, such as tax increment financing, to ensure that at least half of any new jobs go to Baltimore residents.

Sagamore also agreed to:

•Contribute $10 million over the next five years toward workforce development, education and other programs, including an estimated $150,000 annually to fund 100 youth summer jobs.

•Work toward a goal of making 10 percent of thousands of proposed new residences available below market rate.

•Subsidize or provide transport for workers to the project for the first five years.

•Participate in a mentoring program for women and minority-owned firms.

Rawlings-Blake said the commitments, which also require Sagamore to do outreach and report on its compliance, go "above and beyond" city laws and previous deals reached with developers.

The agreements are designed to serve as a base for further negotiation, she said, adding that Young's comments showed a lack of understanding.

"He has decided to make it seem like it is less than it is," she said, "and it's not."

The agreements come as the city considers Sagamore's request for $535 million in tax increment financing, which would pay for roads, utilities, parks and other infrastructure as the South Baltimore project develops over more than two decades. The money would come from bonds that would be repaid by new tax revenue generated by the project.

Sagamore Development President Marc Weller said the commitments are "just the tip of the iceberg."

"We are confident that the redevelopment effort will have a fundamental and far-reaching positive impact on Baltimore, its economy and its future," he said. "As Kevin Plank likes to say, 'We're just getting started.'"

Sagamore has said it plans to work with partners to build as much as 13 million square feet, including 7,500 residences, mostly apartments, as well as offices, stores and restaurants, next to a new headquarters campus for Under Armour.

The work is expected to generate tens of thousands of construction jobs.

Sagamore supporter Joseph T. Jones, CEO of the Center for Urban Families, said the agreements can serve as a model for cities around the country.

"For those who really think about bold vision, this is a bold vision," he said. "This is an opportunity to do the kinds of things that will build a sustainable workforce, not short-term employment."

The housing agreement states that the affordable units must be accessible to families earning less than 80 percent of the median household income in the Baltimore metro area — a relatively high threshold that affordable housing advocates said would not serve the city's many poor and moderate-income families, given that the city's median is about half the region's median.

The intent is for the affordable housing to be funded partly by low-income housing tax credits, as well as city funds, making the apartments accessible to families with lower incomes, said Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano.

Graziano said the city also would make vouchers available for those units — a term that is not included in the agreement.

Pratt said she wanted the 10 percent goal for affordable housing to be a requirement, and asked that Sagamore pay for a city auditor to monitor the firm's compliance.

Claps greeted Pratt's and Young's nay votes during the Board of Estimates meeting, during which activist Kim Trueheart was ejected for disrupting the discussion with commentary.

"Sagamore ought to be ashamed of itself for pushing this," she told the room as she was led out.

Michael Middleton, chairman of the Cherry Hill Community Coalition, asked the board to defer its vote on the agreements, saying the public has not had enough time to vet the terms, which will influence, among other things, his community's ongoing negotiations with Sagamore.

"We don't want to miss an opportunity," he said. "It may be in fact that we have no opposition to the substance ... but what we do have opposition to is not having any type of knowledge or the opportunity to participate in the process."

nsherman@baltsun.com

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