Governor backs plan for buildings

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. pleased preservationists yesterday by expressing strong support for a tax incentive program that rewards developers for reusing older buildings. His remarks came at a "topping out" event for a new residential tower on downtown Baltimore's west side.

The state historic preservation tax credit has been weakened in the past two General Assembly sessions, including his first as governor, to limit the cost. But Ehrlich said he would fight to keep the program going after its scheduled end June 30 next year, saying it is still "under attack in Annapolis."

"It's important for the city, it's important for this project," a hard hat-wearing Ehrlich told dozens of guests gathered high up in the concrete shell of what will be 221 apartments at Fayette and Howard streets. "Please help us save a very important tax incentive, a priority item for our administration. ... It works."

Tyler Gearhart, executive director of the nonprofit Preservation Maryland, said afterward: "Obviously, we were happy to hear it. I wasn't surprised. We've been working with his office on the tax credit issue. It was good to hear him say it so strongly."

The 17-story tower is new, but it is part of Bank of America's larger $80 million Centerpoint project, which involves the renovation of nine-decades-old buildings for apartments and shops. Centerpoint takes up a city block bounded by Howard, Eutaw, Baltimore and Fayette streets.

The $24 million tower is nearly a year from opening, but yesterday marked the ceremonial pouring of the last yard of concrete. Ehrlich, who grew up in Arbutus as a "west-side kid extended," called it a great day.

The governor said though it is popular to criticize corporate greed, Bank of America deserved praise for finding a way both to "make a buck and make a statement" about investing in the struggling west side.

The government has invested as well: Besides $4.2 million in state loans and grants, Centerpoint will qualify for $9.9 million in state and federal historic tax credits.

Bank of America's Maria Miller said it is paying off, given progress there, at the Hippodrome Performing Arts Center and elsewhere. "You gotta say," she said, "the west side is real."

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