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Bethesda firm selected to conduct 'independent' review of Columbia $90M public financing deal

Howard Hughes Corp.'s plan for development includes a variety of mixed uses outlined in the downtown Columbia plan.
Howard Hughes Corp.'s plan for development includes a variety of mixed uses outlined in the downtown Columbia plan. (Courtesy of Howard Hughes Corp.)

A Bethesda-based firm will review the Kittleman administration's proposed $90 million tax increment financing deal to finance public infrastructure in the Crescent neighborhood being developed by Howard Hughes Corp. At the request of the Howard County Council, TischlerBise will review the analysis of MuniCap, a Columbia-based consulted firm hired by the Kittleman administration.

TischlerBise's analysis will cover the $90 million deal, $66 million of which covers a county-owned parking garage and improvements along roadways and intersections. The firm will work with the auditor's office and will complete its analysis by the middle of August, said Craig Glenndenning, the county's auditor.

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The deal, which drew mixed reactions at public hearings this month, finances public infrastructure in the Crescent in the hopes of future increases in property tax revenue generated by the new development.

The firm will review how the deal would benefit the county, but will only analyze the first bond sale of $90 million that is now before the council.

Overall, the Kittleman administration is requesting up to $170 million over four years that would require three bond sales.

The Kittleman administration had hired MuniCap, a Columbia-based consulting firm that analyzed the fiscal impact of the Port Covington deal in Baltimore, to conduct an impartial review of the TIF plan.

MuniCap estimated the overall TIF will result in $1.7 billion in property tax revenue through 2051. After the county pays for debt service and other costs, the plan would yield $407 million in revenue, according to the firm's estimates.

In 2003, TischlerBise reviewed a proposal for Howard Research and Development Corp. to increase residential density in downtown Columbia. The proposal included 1,600 units and 600,000 square feet of other space. Howard Research and Development Corp. was part of the Rouse company.

But that project does not have any bearing on Howard Hughes and its development, according to the county's auditor.

County Council Chairman Calvin Ball, who called for the analysis last month, said the TIF "demands our careful scrutiny."

The firm analyzed the Port Covington TIF deal in Baltimore for a community organization and questioned the optimistic projections on which the city is relying.

The council will consider the TIF and all other downtown Columbia legislation in September after its August recess.

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