Baltimore officials approve $100 million community benefits deal with Port Covington developers

"We're going to hold their feet to the fire," Comptroller Joan Pratt says of Port Covington developers.

Baltimore's spending panel voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a $100 million community benefits deal signed by city officials and the developers of Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's Port Covington project.

Officials including Comptroller Joan M. Pratt and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young emphasized that the deal includes an auditor dedicated solely to Port Covington. They said the auditor will ensure that Plank's Sagamore Development Co. follows through on its pledge to build an inclusive project that employs local residents at good wages.

"I look forward to them being in compliance," Pratt said. "We're going to hold their feet to the fire."

The $100 million deal — which was announced last week but required the approval of the Board of Estimates — 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 in no-interest loans or other funding streams for minority- or women-owned startups.

The developers agreed to hire at least 30 percent of all infrastructure construction workers from Baltimore, pay at least $17.48 an hour, and set aside 20 percent of housing units for poor and middle-class families. (Forty percent of that housing may be built elsewhere in the city.)

If the cost of park land at Port Covington that Sagamore will donate to the city is included, Young said, the total benefits package is more than $135 million.

"When you look at past packages we received as a city, where we hardly got anything, and you look at $135.9 million, I call that a major win for the city of Baltimore," Young said. "It's unprecedented that we get $135.9 million. I think we did very good as a city to get that out of the development."

Critics say the language on affordable housing is weak. It requires 10 percent of Port Covington's affordable housing units to be built for people who make less than $26,000, and contains what critics call a "loophole" that allows the developer to pay money into a fund instead of building the units.

Unions want higher wages for construction workers.

Young said the council is open to accommodating more union workers if they are willing to negotiate.

"Two unions already signed on," he said. "The door is still open for those unions to come in and negotiate. The door is not shut."

Sagamore has proposed a $5.5 billion waterfront development that would include a new headquarters for Under Armour, restaurants, shops, housing and manufacturing space. 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.

Tom Geddes, the CEO of Sagamore's parent company, Plank Industries, said the developer was committed to investing in the city.

"Our community partners and elected officials have been instrumental in helping us find the balance between unprecedented inclusivity on the one hand and economic viability for the project on the other," Geddes said in a statement. "The result is a collective vision that we will all be proud of for a very long time."

The community benefits deal was widely seen as the key to getting the council to issue the bonds. Twelve of 15 City Council members have already given preliminary approval to the bonds. The council is expected to take a final vote next week.

If it again votes in favor of the proposal, legislation would go to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's desk. She is expected to sign it.

Rawlings-Blake said she is "very pleased" with the deal.

"It's an unprecedented agreement that reflects an amazing amount of community dialogue, community engagement and community benefit," she said.

Still, Rawlings-Blake said, housing and labor advocates have a legitimate point of view.

"I don't think what they're asking for is unreasonable," she said. "Their concerns have been heard loud and clear from the very beginning. In history, I don't think there's a project of this size and magnitude that has unanimous approval.

"I don't want perfect to be the enemy of the good or the enemy of progress. My hope is that everyone sees the benefit in it."

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
54°