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Protesters call on city to delay vote on Port Covington TIF

Baltimore, MD. -- Activists held a protest outside City Hall on Thursday to call on the city to wait to vote on tax increment financing until a new mayor and new council take office.

Activists at a protest backed by unions, community groups and several City Council Democratic primary winners called on city leaders to slow down as they consider signing off on $535 million in public financing to support the redevelopment of Port Covington.

Sagamore Development, the real estate company owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, has requested the financing to pay for roads, parks and other projects on land the company owns in South Baltimore, where the firm has proposed a major mixed-use development adjacent to a new Under Armour headquarters.

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Activists called the proposal a "bad deal" for Baltimore, saying that it would limit the city's ability to invest in areas such as education and that there are many unknowns. They called for the process to be "frozen" until there is a new council and new mayor and outside experts have time to look at the details.

"It does not make sense that people who will have no accountability to the public will be able to pass this deal," said Charly Carter, executive director of MD Working Families, speaking against a backdrop of several dozen people, including one person dressed as a "lame duck." "Put the brakes on this deal until there are fresh eyes that can look at it."

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The $535 million would come from selling city bonds, which would be repaid by new property taxes generated by the project. The city is currently crafting legislation for review by the City Council and Board of Finance.

Spokesmen for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said it would be irresponsible for city leaders to wait seven months.

"All city business and city developments should not grind to a halt just because we had a primary election earlier this week," said Howard Libit, the mayor's spokesman.

Outgoing City Councilman Carl Stokes, who heads the committee that will review the deal and who spoke at the protest, said he wants to make it a requirement for Sagamore to build affordable housing in Port Covington, and he plans to hold informational hearings to give people a better general understanding of TIFs.

But Stokes, who opposed a controversial TIF package for Harbor Point and received a warm welcome by the protesters, said he expects the issue to come to a vote in the fall.

"I think you should let us handle this," he said.

Sagamore, which controls about 160 acres and is looking to acquire more, plans to serve as master developer in Port Covington, selling land to partners who would build offices, stores and thousands of new residences.

Under Armour has already leased a renovated Sam's Club and space in a former city garage from the firm. Construction of a distillery for Sagamore Spirit, Plank's rye whiskey company, is underway.

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Carter and others at the protest said it should not be a priority for the city to fund infrastructure for a new development when resources are scarce in existing neighborhoods.

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"When we have to … forgo money to make payments on debt, that is money we're not investing in our own communities, communities that went up in flames just a year ago," Carter said.

Sagamore said it is in discussions with community and faith leaders about how to ensure that the project's benefits extend throughout the city.

An analysis of the TIF for the city projects that Port Covington redevelopment will generate nearly 35,000 permanent jobs when it is complete, including part-time positions or those located elsewhere in Baltimore.

It estimates that it will generate $1.7 billion in new revenue over a 41-year period, after tax credits and $1.4 billion in interest payments.

In addition to the TIF, Sagamore has said it hopes to secure $573 million in federal and state funding for infrastructure, including a light rail spur, new highway exits and other changes.

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"This is an exciting moment for Baltimore and an opportunity for true positive change for our city," the firm said in a statement.

nsherman@baltsun.com


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