It's a strange turn for a project that has enjoyed smooth sailing-if not fait accompli status-in the year since it hit the drawing board. Exelon Corp., the giant energy company that absorbed Baltimore Gas and Electric parent company Constellation Energy Group, promised to build a 23-story regional headquarters there. And John Paterakis, the bakery magnate with a seeming Midas touch for development, is closely associated with Harbor Point frontman Michael Beatty. The Baltimore Development Corporation rolled out the red carpet it reserves for, well, anyone who appears to have the capacity to build anything, and Baltimore officials mostly fawned over the planned project-which is slated for construction atop a 28-acre toxic waste dump right on the waterfront.
But the hearing, called by 12th District City Councilman Carl Stokes, may prove a turning point. People who live in public housing, many of them sporting T-shirts with the slogan "Michael Beatty got an $88 million tax break and all we got was this damn T-shirt," demanded jobs and cash.
The Perkins Homes residents' poverty, they said, made possible the "Enterprise Zone" status that allows this particular $88 million tax break. The Harbor Point parcel had been eliminated from the city's Enterprise Zone map, then abruptly put back on it, last summer. Stokes submitted a council resolution demanding that "the developer commit to investing at least $15.6 million . . . into the Perkins Homes Community."
At the hearing, Stokes read from the developer's application for Enterprise Zone status: "When one considers Southeast Baltimore, particularly the area immediately north of Harbor East, one can observe high poverty rates, elevated joblessness and ongoing lack of investment momentum. The continued expansion of Harbor East/Harbor Point is critical to the well-being of these communities."
Bishop Douglas Miles of the Koinonia Baptist Church echoed points many made at the hearing. "Beatty is not offering anything of substance to taxpayers other than that promissory note of jobs," he said. "This tale of two cities must end! This lack of investment in the people of Baltimore must end!"
One remarkable fact glossed over in the furor: Perkins Homes is not in the Enterprise Zone that would benefit Harbor Point. The use of Perkins residents as a symbol of those dispossessed and ripped off by the city's long-term development strategy was Stokes' doing. BDC President Brenda McKenzie pointed this out in her letter opposing Stokes' resolution and testified that "none of these jobs are possible unless the project is funded and moves forward."
And yet the larger point resonates, because the city itself has long touted its impressive (and apparently intractable) poverty to the state and federal government in its annual bid for aid. No less than 23 percent of the city's $2.4 billion operating budget comes from outside the city, and most of that is tied, at least in part, to the persistent neediness of the city's residents.
Patrick Henderson brought up another remarkable fact that has been mostly overlooked in the debate about Harbor Point at the hearing. "Are we all climate-change deniers?" he asked at the hearing, citing a recent
Stokes, after the hearing, says he will not comment about the potential environmental issues raised by the development. He says negotiating for a better deal for low-income people in the city will probably extend beyond this week (and since the bill is in his committee, he sets the timetable). "I think we're going to have to listen carefully on Wednesday too and ask for more analysis than we have so far," Stokes says. "I don't think we're going to get all this wrapped up on Wednesday."