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Baltimore County Council set for vote on $78M plan to help Tradepoint Atlantic redevelop Sparrows Point

Baltimore County Council set for vote on $78M plan to help Tradepoint Atlantic redevelop Sparrows Point
The Tradepoint Atlantic logo adorns a water tower on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel mill in Sparrows Point. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore County Council members are poised to vote Monday on what’s believed to be the county’s largest-ever financial assistance plan for a private company — a $78 million package to help Tradepoint Atlantic build out roads, water lines and sewer pipes in Sparrows Point.

Despite the large price tag, the plan appears headed for approval by the council. During a public hearing last week, council members offered no criticism of the major components of the deal.

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Tradepoint Atlantic executives have said they need help building out the infrastructure to attract tenants, including manufacturing companies, to the old steel mill site that the company is redeveloping at Sparrows Point.

Much of the 5-square-mile property lacks access to water and sewer service and the road network is substandard. In some areas, it’s non-existent.

Tradepoint officials did not respond to a request for comment Friday, but they’ve been saying for months they need financial help to get the infrastructure built quickly in order to take advantage of a good industrial market and nail down deals with tenants.

“This is about getting the right infrastructure in the right place at the right time,” Aaron Tomarchio, a Tradepoint senior vice president, told council members last week. “This is not a speculative deal. This is proven.”

The $78 million deal has several components.

The county would reimburse Tradepoint up to $44 million for money the company will spend for water and sewer work. The reimbursement would come from the same fund that pays for other water and sewer projects around the county.

The county also would provide Tradepoint up to $34 million for roadwork. The county expects to recoup some of that money from the state. The state usually makes payments to jurisdictions to soften the blow of a property tax credit given to projects in state-designated enterprise zones — such as the Chesapeake Enterprise Zone that includes Sparrows Point. The county would use a portion of those funds to pay Tradepoint for roads.

As part of the package, Tradepoint will also donate a parcel of land to the county that will eventually be used for a new fire station, police substation and fire training academy.

The $78 million reimbursement-based plan is significantly different than the financial assistance deal Tradepoint executives first sought from the county. Tradepoint’s first proposal was a government-assisted financing package worth up to $150 million.

Under that proposal, known as tax-increment financing, a portion of Tradepoint’s property tax payments would have been used to pay off government bonds that would have financed the infrastructure work.

Former County Executive Don Mohler, whose term ended earlier this month, was reluctant to give up future tax money, and negotiated the $78 million deal.

The administration of County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., who took office on Dec. 3, has continued to move forward with that proposal. He declined to comment Friday, but has said he likes the $78 million deal better than the old one.

Will Anderson, the county’s director of economic development, said the county has researched implications of the package thoroughly. He believes it’s a good deal for taxpayers that will spur the creation of thousands of jobs.

“This is the largest public-private investment the county has done,” Anderson said.

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One year ago, council members narrowly approved a $43 million financial package to the developers of the mixed-use Towson Row development, in hopes of jump-starting the stalled project.

Several years before that, the county authorized $33 million in bonds under a tax-increment financing arrangement to build a garage, library and community college satellite campus at the Metro Centre project in Owings Mills.

The Tradepoint Atlantic deal has benefited from significant support, particularly from neighborhoods in eastern Baltimore County that suffered from the decline and closure of the steel mill in 2012.

During a two-hour hearing on the deal last week, council members heard from nearly two dozen people — almost all of them in support. Many wore stickers indicating they’re part of the “Revitalize Sparrows Point” coalition that Tradepoint assembled to champion the project.

Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents Sparrows Point, said he’s gotten about 200 e-mails in support of the deal. He said in an interview that he’s “extremely supportive” of the deal after doing research on the details. Absent any last-minute problems, he expects the deal will be approved Monday.

“Our area has been starving for this kind of investment for a long time … It’s our time now to capitalize on the opportunity that we have in southeastern Baltimore County,” said Crandell, a Dundalk Republican.

The Baltimore County Council meets at 6 p.m. Monday in the Historic Courthouse, 400 Washington Ave. in Towson.

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