Tradepoint Atlantic to seek at least $100 million in public financing

The company redeveloping the former Sparrows Point steel mill is planning to ask Baltimore County government for up to $150 million in public financing to help pay for roads and water and sewer lines.

Tradepoint Atlantic, the company that bought the mill property in 2014, launched a “Revitalize Sparrows Point” online campaign Wednesday to drum up public support for the financing plan.

“We just want to make the public aware that we are kind of working in this direction,” Tradepoint Atlantic Vice President Aaron Tomarchio said.

He said the company intends to seek the county’s approval for $100 million to $150 million in tax-increment financing.

In tax-increment financing, or TIF, the government finances the up-front costs of infrastructure projects and the property owner repays the money over time as a portion of property taxes based on greater property values.

If Baltimore County authorized the TIF, the Maryland Economic Development Corporation would issue bonds to pay for the infrastructure projects. The county would send a portion of Tradepoint’s property tax to MEDCO to pay off the bonds.

Tradepoint Atlantic has been working on a TIF deal since at least 2016, when an economist commissioned by the company recommended seeking government help in paying for infrastructure at the 3,100-acre site.

The Baltimore County Council approved a resolution in December that gave the Tradepoint Atlantic property a specific designation that’s a prerequisite for seeking a TIF.

Tradepoint is redeveloping the old steel mill into an industrial campus with port, logistics and light manufacturing uses. The company has leveled most of the old steel mill buildings and equipment and is working to remediate environmental contamination across the property. That effort is expected to cost at least $50 million.

The project has landed tenants including a FedEx distribution center, an Under Armour fulfillment warehouse, an Amazon warehouse and auto importer Pasha Automotive.

The federal government recently awarded a $20 million grant to help pay for upgrades to Tradepoint’s port facilities, and the company is seeking approval to dredge deeper channels leading to the property.

But the company says it needs more help to complete roads and water and sewer lines to continue redevelopment and attract more tenants. The financing it seeks would pay for 4.5 miles of roads, 6.5 miles of sewer line and 8 miles of water line.

Tomarchio said Tradepoint officials have been in discussions with Baltimore County officials about the details of the TIF.

Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler said the county has hired a consultant to review “whether or not a TIF makes sense for the taxpayers of Baltimore County.” The review, being conducted by RKG Associates of Alexandria, Va., should be complete in the fall.

“The redevelopment of Tradepoint Atlantic and its potential for 17,000 jobs is one of the most significant economic development projects in the nation,” Mohler said in a statement. He said the county “has always been open to exploring a TIF.”

Tax-increment financing deals are rarely used in Baltimore County, and are often controversial.

Most recently, the method was used to pay for a parking garage and other infrastructure at the Owings Mills Metro Centre development.

There was sharp disagreement in Baltimore over whether the city should extend $660 million in financing for Sagamore Development’s $5.5 billion Port Covington redevelopment in South Baltimore. That deal was approved in 2016.

The Baltimore Sun Media Group has a long-term lease with Sagamore on its printing plant in Port Covington. The building is planned to become the newspaper’s headquarters this year.

In Howard County, there were second thoughts over $90 million in tax-increment financing for development in downtown Columbia in 2017.

Tomarchio said he expects to encounter opposition from people who don’t understand tax-increment financing. The company sent an email to local residents and supporters Wednesday asking for support.

“We’ve been open and transparent as a company throughout the entire development of the site so far,” Tomarchio said. “This effort is in the same vein. We are coming out early and putting this on the table.”

Tomarchio would not say when the company hopes to have a TIF finalized. It would need approval from the County Council, which has generally been supportive of Tradepoint’s efforts, but will have new members after the November election.

Tomarchio said a TIF isn’t a requirement for redevelopment to continue at Tradepoint. But without the financial help, he said, it will take longer for the project to move forward.

Councilman Todd Crandell, a Republican who represents Sparrows Point, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The candidates running to succeed Mohler as county executive urged caution when considering whether a TIF is appropriate.

Republican nominee Al Redmer Jr. said Tradepoint represents a “remarkable opportunity” to bring back jobs lost when the steel plant closed in 2012.

“It is imperative that both Baltimore County and Tradepoint bring the community to the table in an open, transparent fashion and involve them in any conversation about new infrastructure and how it will affect the community,” Redmer said in a statement.

Democratic nominee Johnny Olszewski Jr., who grew up in Dundalk, said redevelopment of the mill will be “transformational.” He said he supports the county researching the benefits of a TIF.

“I support Baltimore County’s efforts to partner with the local community and Tradepoint Atlantic to ensure that this once-in-a-generation project succeeds,” Olszewski said in a statement.

pwood@baltsun.com

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