Harbor Point deal goes to full council Monday

Opponents of more than $100 million in public financing for an upscale waterfront development say they plan to continue to fight the proposal as it goes before the full City Council for a vote Monday evening.

But City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, a backer of the $1.8 billion Harbor Point project, says he has the votes to make sure the plan passes the 15-member council.


"His support for the project is strong and absolute," said Lester Davis, Young's spokesman. "As it stands right now, there's certainly more than the required eight members supporting the project."

The council is scheduled to conduct a preliminary vote Monday on the deal to provide $107 million in tax increment financing bonds for the project's infrastructure and parks. The body will not grant final approval for the subsidy until next month, Davis said.

Davis said Young was declining to invoke special rules to give the development final approval on Monday. "The process has worked," Davis said. "We've had hearings. We've had a work session. The project has been advancing."

The Harbor Point development is the planned home of energy giant Exelon's new regional headquarters, as well as a Morgan Stanley facility, other office buildings, residential towers, stores and a hotel.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is a strong supporter of the project, which she says will swell the city's tax rolls and create hundreds of jobs. Opponents say the city financing deal is risky and amounts to little more than corporate welfare, allowing the developer to reap millions more in profit.

Critics plan to continue to oppose the development's subsidies. The interfaith coalition Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development has proposed amendments to reduce by half the $59 million for park space. They've asked the council to force the developer to give $3 million a year to the city Recreation and Parks Department and $1 million annually to city schools.

"We still think it's unfair," said the Rev. Glenna Huber of BUILD. "We're not opposed to public subsidies, but subsidy always must come with responsibility. It is overly generous to one developer."

City Councilman Carl Stokes, an opponent of the subsidies, said he sees little chance to stop the deal now, since it passed the council's taxation committee last week. He said too many council members are counting on too many campaign donations related to the project to vote against the financing plan.

"When it is this greased, even the truth won't persuade the vote," he said. "From Fells Point through Downtown and uptown, people are calling for a different result. Palms have been greased. You saw the behavior of some council members afraid of losing their campaign contributions, disrespectful of the citizens and the process."

The council's taxation committee voted 3-0 Wednesday night to approve $107 million in bonds for the waterfront project over the objections of Stokes, the committee chairman, who left the room in disgust as the vote was being taken.

Stokes declined to sign the bills Friday, an administrative procedure necessary for the legislation to advance to the full council. He said he was refusing to sign them, in part, he said, because Young had "hijacked" his committee.

But Young expects to get the 10 votes needed to suspend council rules and bring the measure to a vote anyhow, Davis said.

The three pieces of legislation would enable the city to issue $107 million in tax increment financing bonds that would accumulate interest and fees for a total debt of $283 million.

Under tax increment financing deals, the city issues bonds to pay for property acquisitions, infrastructure improvements and other project costs, then uses the increased tax revenue generated by the development to pay off the bonds.


The site is assessed now at $10 million, but the Baltimore Development Corp. projects it would be valued at $1.8 billion for tax purposes when the developer, Michael S. Beatty, completes it.

In addition to the tax increment financing, the development is benefiting from more than $110 million in tax breaks.