Baltimore County delays consideration of Tradepoint Atlantic aid; will now face new council, county executive

Baltimore County would give Tradepoint Atlantic, the company redeveloping the former steel mill in Sparrows Point into a shipping and logistics hub, millions less in financial assistance than the developer has sought under a pending agreement.

The county plans to propose about $78 million in aid for the construction of roads, water lines and sewer pipes on the vast property, according to County Council Chairman Julian Jones.

Tradepoint officials initially sought up to $150 million in government-assisted financing, then later downgraded their expectations to less than $100 million.

Consideration of the project also is being delayed until the new county council and county executive take office.

Jones said Thursday that council members are scheduled to have briefings on the new deal next week, but a vote on the matter won’t come until December.

While he offered no details about the proposed aid, he said the package being prepared by current County Executive Don Mohler will not come in the form of government-assisted financing as Tradepoint initially sought.

“We just made a decision that let’s just slow this thing down,” said Jones, a Woodstock Democrat. “It would be great if we could have gotten it done, but let’s just slow it down.”

The new timetable means the deal will be up for council approval after Mohler leaves office and Johnny Olszewski Jr. is sworn in as the next county executive. Olszewski, a Democrat and ally of Mohler, defeated Republican Al Redmer Jr. in Tuesday’s election.

Olszewski is waiting to hear more details about the proposed agreement, according to his spokesman, Sean Naron.

“He has requested a full briefing and it’s expected to be completed by early next week,” Naron said. “He remains committed to making sure any deal is good for taxpayers and he will work with the county, the council, the community and all invested partners in ensuring this once-in-a-generation project can succeed.”

Olszewski is from Dundalk and spoke often during the campaign about growing up “in the shadow of the steel mill” and understanding the need to bring jobs back to Sparrows Point. The mill, which was operated by Bethlehem Steel for most of its history, closed for good in 2012 when then-owner RG Steel went bankrupt.

Mohler and Tradepoint officials previously indicated that they wanted to secure a deal before the changeover to the next executive and council, which is set for Dec. 3.

Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for Mohler, declined to divulge details about what the financial assistance to Tradepoint will entail.

“As the county executive has said, he is very supportive of the entire development and the huge economic impact and jobs that it’s going to bring,” she said. “We are in the very final stages of putting together an agreement that will be put before stakeholders very soon.”

Officials with Tradepoint Atlantic did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. But they’ve previously said that they need help with infrastructure to open up the entire 5-square-mile site to development. The property currently lacks roads and water and sewer infrastructure that’s necessary to lure top tenants, such as manufacturing companies.

Tradepoint Atlantic bought the former steel mill in 2014 and has been working to redevelop the site. Tenants so far include warehouses for FedEx, Amazon and Under Armour, as well as an auto-importing operation run by Pasha Automotive and other businesses.

The company launched a Revitalize Sparrows Point campaign this summer to promote the need for public financing, and enlisted former county executive Ted Venetoulis as the face of the campaign.

Initially, the company sought the assistance in the form of tax-increment financing, often called a TIF. Under such a deal, the government would have issued bonds to borrow the money needed for the infrastructure work. The bonds would have been paid back using a portion of the property taxes that Tradepoint Atlantic would pay in the future. The value of the property, and therefore the amount of property taxes paid, is expected to increase as the site is developed.

Such arrangements are often controversial because they dedicate a portion of the taxes to bond payments instead of to general government services such as schools, public safety or public works.

It’s unclear what type of assistance the county might be proposing for Tradepoint Atlantic now that a TIF is off the table.

For other economic development projects, the county has offered forgivable loans, grants and agreements involving tax credits.

In the case of Towson Row, a proposed mixed-use development on York Road in Towson, the county put together a complex $43 million package to help jump start the stalled project.

More than half of that money involved the county giving the developers cash assistance up front, and then the developers agreeing not to apply for future tax credits that they would have been eligible for once the project is complete. A divided county council approved that deal last December.

pwood@baltsun.com

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