On Monday, the Baltimore City Council is set to vote on two of three bills pertaining to the Port Covington development. The third bill is stuck in committe but could be drafted out. (Emma Patti Harris/Baltimore Sun video)
An influential group of Baltimore ministers is calling on the City Council to force a vote next week that would greenlight the Port Covington development, bypassing the committee where necessary legislation has stalled. Several council members say they would support such a move.
"We're terribly frustrated," said the Rev. Andrew Foster Connors of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, which negotiated a $100 million community benefits deal with the developer. "We've delivered an unprecedented deal. It needs to be brought to the council for a vote."
The Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee, chaired by Councilman Carl Stokes, unexpectedly stopped short Thursday night of approving $660 million in bonds for Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's Port Covington development. After approving two of three necessary bills, Stokes abruptly called the meeting to a close without explanation.
Stokes later told reporters he was concerned that the public had not had time to thoroughly review the $100 million deal Plank's Sagamore Development Co. made with the city. The agreement had been announced hours earlier.
Stokes also expressed concern about projections that show city schools would lose millions of dollars in state funding as a result of the project.
But Foster Connors and other proponents of the development say the deal with Sagamore addresses those concerns. It states that the developer will not request any bonds be issued "if there is a projected negative impact on State education funding for Baltimore City Schools."
"We did everything Chairman Stokes asked us to do, including protect education funding," Foster Connors said. "We have no idea what he's doing at this point."
Two of three bills authorizing the bond deal for Port Covington are up for a vote Monday before the 15-member City Council. Stokes' committee passed them, 3-0, Thursday night. The bills create a special taxing district for the Port Covington development.
The bill that didn't get a committee vote would authorize the $660 million in bonds, which would pay for roads, utilities and other infrastructure. The bill could be forced out of committee if eight members of the City Council vote to do so.
Several members told The Baltimore Sun on Friday that they support such a move.
"It's time for the full council to vote on it," said Councilman Eric T. Costello, who represents the area. "It's a great project. We spent a great time in negotiations. I'm hopeful the project can move forward."
Sagamore, the Rawlings-Blake administration, key City Council members and BUILD — which had opposed the project — spent weeks negotiating the community benefits deal, thought to be key in winning the council's approval of the Port Covington project.
The $100 million deal builds off a $39 million agreement between the developer and six neighborhoods near the project. That agreement includes $25 million to train workers at a new Port Covington training center and $10 million for no-interest loans or other funding streams for minority- or women-owned startup businesses.
The developers also agreed to hire at least 30 percent of all infrastructure construction workers from Baltimore, pay a minimum wage of at least $17.48 an hour, and set aside 20 percent of housing units for poor and middle-class families — though 40 percent of such housing may be built elsewhere in the city.
City Council Vice President Ed Reisinger said the way Sagamore negotiated with nearby neighborhoods, including Cherry Hill and Westport, encouraged him to support the project.
"It's sad that the leadership is not there in the committee," Reisinger said. "In all the years I've been on the council, there's never been a developer who was investing like this. And they have to deal with this craziness and lack of leadership?
"I apologized to them for what happened last night. Who is going to want to come into Baltimore to invest if they have to deal with this? It's frustrating. It's crazy and it's stupid."
Stokes said Thursday night that he believed the deal required more study, and he planned to bring the final bill up for a vote within a week. He said Friday that he would oppose any effort to bypass his committee.
"The committee has asked for another week," Stokes said. "I voted for the first two bills. I stand by what I said. I'm good with that."
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke agreed, saying she does not support any move to force the bill out of committee. Clarke said she believes the legislation needs more work and plans to introduce amendments requiring the Port Covington developers to pay a $23-an-hour "prevailing wage" to all construction workers.
She also plans to introduce an amendment that would require all companies that move into the development to pay their employees a "living wage."
"I think the committee has acted responsibly," Clarke said. "This is giving everyone a window to say, 'Let's take another look.' This is a big, big deal. We're deferring decades of tax revenue.
"This is a reasonable thing and it's an appropriate thing. We deserve to have this time out."
Sagamore has proposed a mixed-use waterfront development that would include a new headquarters for Under Armour, restaurants, shops, housing and manufacturing space, among other features. The land includes the site of The Baltimore Sun's printing plant, for which the newspaper has a long-term lease.
Sagamore has asked the city to float $660 million in bonds to build infrastructure for the project. The developer would have to pay back the bonds through future taxes.
Critics contend such deals divert money for decades from the city's general fund, where tax revenue could pay for services, such as firefighters and schools.
Barbara Samuels, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, argued that the council should not vote on the Port Covington deal without more work — citing what she views as weak guarantees for affordable housing, local hiring and good wages.
"I can't believe anyone is even considering voting on a bill, given they don't know what they're voting on," Samuels said. "They don't have the profit-sharing agreement and the new [memorandum of understanding] hasn't been made public yet. Clearly, Councilman Stokes felt uncomfortable with the way things were going."
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But City Councilman Robert W. Curran said he's met with proponents and opponents of the deal, and supports bypassing the committee.
"In five years, will the city be better off with this or without this?" Curran said. "I think the city will be much better off with it. It will be a nice place to live and a nice place to shop."
Councilman Brandon Scott agreed. He said the community benefits agreement attached to the project could serve as a national model for development.
"I am very pleased with how this project is so much different than the ones before it," Scott said. "The way this project was negotiated will change how these projects are dealt with, not just in Baltimore, but around the country."