A holy alliance planned at Pier Six

Call it a public-private-pulpit partnership.

To resurrect the moribund Pier Six Concert Pavilion, Baltimore officials yesterday selected a uniquely configured management team that pairs a premier Inner Harbor developer with a prominent inner-city church.


The partnership of developer David S. Cordish and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church pastor Frank M. Reid III appears to establish a pioneering chapter for minority participation in city-backed projects - the African-American church risks no money, yet it shares in the profits.

Mayor Martin O'Malley's Republican critics charged yesterday, however, that the deal is nothing more than a blatant election-year ploy to shore up Reid's politically potent support as O'Malley runs for governor.


In the deal, which is subject to Board of Estimates approval after a 90-day negotiation period, The Cordish Co. would make an annual gift to Bethel AME equal to 10 percent of Pier Six profits, according to Reed Cordish, the company's vice president.

"The Church does not have to do anything or pay anything for its 10%," Cordish wrote in an e-mail to The Sun.

The Baltimore Development Corp. - the city's economic development agency - chose the Cordish deal primarily because it intends to overhaul the city-owned Pier Six pavilion at its current Inner Harbor location. A rival plan called for moving the facility.

In recent years, city officials have been disappointed by the summertime concert site, feeling it has underperformed. BDC officials hope that the management team will finance more than $2 million in renovations - expanding seating which could then attract more acts.

The pavilion, which opened in 1981 and was replaced by the current facility 10 years later, accommodates 3,341 seats under cover and 1,000 people on the lawn. The Cordish plan, which may not be completed until 2007, calls for seating to go to 6,000.

Under the deal, the city would lease the facility to the Cordish team, which includes Infinity Broadcasting and Bill Muehlhauser, owner of the Rams Head Tavern halls. The team will renovate, book acts and manage the pavilion. Part of the deal calls for sharing a portion of the proceeds with the city. The specific financial details will be worked out over the next few months.

"Traditionally it was limited to musical [events]," Cordish wrote in an e-mail. "We will add theater, symphony, magicians, comedy."

In addition, the city expects the promenade around the pavilion to be open to the public even when shows are not being held.


"We expect great things, not just the dusting off of the facility," BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie said.

As the BDC makes recommendations to O'Malley, it typically requires developers to outline plans for minority participation - a process it followed for the Pier Six deal, officials said.

The Cordish Co. named Bethel AME Church as its minority equity partner, said Andrew B. Frank, executive vice president of the BDC. Frank said that during negotiations, Cordish officials said they had developed a relationship and partnership with Reid and the church to assist the large congregation's community development initiatives.

Brodie, a longtime city development official, said he could not recall a similar development deal that featured a church as a minority equity partner. He also said most partners have to risk money to share in any reward.

"It is certainly unusual," Brodie said. "It's a pioneering thing."

He said about half of all city deals struck by the BDC feature minority equity. "Those are all people putting up real money and taking real risk," he said.


In the Baltimore Business Journal's 2006 Book of Lists, Bethel AME Church was ranked as the Baltimore area's largest "house of worship" with a $5.2 million budget and 15,000 members, including City Council President Sheila Dixon and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt.

Many believe that O'Malley's 1999 bid to become mayor picked up momentum through key endorsements from some of the city's most prominent African-American leaders, including Reid. Since 1999, Reid has donated $7,000 to O'Malley's campaign fund, according to campaign finance records. He was an exclusive $4,000 donor at O'Malley's May 14, 2003, fundraiser at M&T; Bank Stadium.

The key backers of the losing Pier Six proposal - a team of H&S; Properties Development Corp., Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and Doracon Contracting's Ronald H. Lipscomb, a minority developer - have also contributed significant sums to the mayor's campaigns.

"One can look at both teams and say they've been supportive of the mayor. That's just not a factor in our decision," Brodie said.

Nevertheless, Maryland Republican Party spokeswoman Audra Miller questioned the deal.

"That is a very, very strange and dubious proposal," Miller said. "The mayor's loyal contributors continue to get sweetheart deals in the city. I would think the taxpayers would want to get some answers to that."


Reid said he and Cordish company officials have been discussing ways to partner on inner-city development for years but have been unable to agree on a suitable project. Reid is a board member of CDF Development LLC, a Cordish affiliate that provides financing to large-scale retail projects in low-income urban communities, according to the company's Web site.

Reid said there has long been an unfair gap between inner-city and Inner Harbor development - a criticism raised by many community leaders this past summer during debate over city financing for a convention center hotel.

"This is a radical departure from how most developers do business all over the country," Reid said. "One of the top developers says, 'Here, use this money for the good work you can do in your neighborhood.'"

He said no details have been formulated on how the church's 10 percent will be spent, but that he expects the final contract between the city and the developer will help define the parameters.

"I'm sure there's an accountability structure of some kind," Reid said. "If not, we will set up one so that this pioneering effort is not jeopardized."