Baltimore County Council OKs $78M help for Tradepoint Atlantic

The Baltimore County Council voted Monday evening to give Tradepoint Atlantic up to $78 million to build roads, water lines and sewer pipes at the old Bethehem Steel mill in Sparrows Point that the company is redeveloping.

Council members approved the deal unanimously, with multiple members saying they were comfortable spending the money because they’re confident it will help lead to the creation of thousands of new jobs.

“I’m very excited tonight,” said Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican whose district includes Sparrows Point. “This is an investment that our district has been starving for for a long, long time and it’s coming to fruition.”

Tradepoint Atlantic executives, who watched as the vote was taken, said the money will help them unlock more of their 5-square-mile property for future development — and hopefully attract tenants that will bring good-paying jobs.

The deal is structured in a novel way, with the county planning to reimburse the company for the infrastructure work out of two different pots of money. It’s believed to be the largest financial assistance package using county dollars in the county’s history.

“This is a historic public private agreement that we are striking tonight,” said Will Anderson, the county’s economic development director, just before the vote.

Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, lived most of her life in Dundalk and witnessed the decline of steel jobs.

“I am so excited for the possibilities that are going to happen on this property,” Bevins said.

The outcome of the vote was not seriously in doubt: Council members offered no substantial criticism of the deal last week, and County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. put his full support behind the deal earlier Monday.

Still, Tradepoint executives lobbied for the deal, and lined up dozens of people to attend Monday’s vote. Many carried white-and-green signs bearing a logo for “Revitalize Sparrows Point” — the name for the company’s campaign in favor of the government financial support.

After the vote, Tradepoint Senior Vice President Aaron Tomarchio issued a statement thanking the council and Olszewski for supporting the deal.

“We are mindful of our collective responsibility to get this right and we work hard each and every day towards a vision that will have a cleaner, greener Sparrows Point once again humming with jobs and economic activity,” Tomarchio said in the statement.

The $78 million will reimburse Tradepoint Atlantic for its costs of extending water and sewer lines and improving and building roads on its vast property that had been used as a steel mill for more than a century before its closing in 2012.

Tradepoint Atlantic is redeveloping the land into a logistics and manufacturing hub that takes advantage of the site’s port facilities, links to two rail lines and access to highways.

With the financial help, Tradepoint officials say they can continue to redevelop the property at a quicker pace and land tenants such as manufacturing companies.

The deal approved Monday has multiple components.

The county would reimburse Tradepoint up to $44 million for money the company spends for water and sewer work. The reimbursement would come from the same fund that pays for other water and sewer projects around the county.

The county also would provide Tradepoint up to $34 million for roadwork. The county expects to recoup some of that money from the state.

The state usually makes payments to jurisdictions to soften the blow of a property tax credit given to projects in state-designated enterprise zones — such as the Chesapeake Enterprise Zone that includes Sparrows Point. The county would use a portion of those funds to pay Tradepoint for roads.

As part of the package, Tradepoint also will donate a parcel of land to the county that eventually will be used for a new fire station, police substation and fire training academy.

Olszewski added another land donation requirement before Monday’s vote, for Tradepoint to provide land to be used for a park. An 18-acre parcel on the eastern edge of the property is currently under consideration.

Olszewski also bumped the requirement for minority- and women-owned business participation in the infrastructure construction contracts from 15 percent to 20 percent. And he got Tradepoint to agree to report information on wages and benefits for the infrastructure workers on the site.

Members of the County Council requested the tweaks to the minority participation and the labor reporting requirements during a hearing last week, and Tradepoint officials indicated they’d be amenable to those changes. Some local residents last week also expressed a desire to get parkland out of the deal.

“By engaging our communities and working in partnership with Tradepoint Atlantic, we took a good deal and made it even better,” Olszewski said in a statement before Monday’s vote.

The deal changed significantly from Tradepoint’s first request, for a government-assisted financing plan of up to $150 million. Under that proposal, called tax-increment financing, the county would have issued bonds to borrow money for the infrastructure work. The bonds would have been paid off by using a portion of Tradepoint’s property taxes for about 30 years.

Former County Executive Don Mohler reworked that deal, saying he did not want to give up property taxes in the future. He also scaled back the request to the $78 million that was approved Monday.

Council members said they thought the revised deal was better.

“The deal on the table now is so much better than where we started,” said Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat whose father worked at Sparrows Point for more than 40 years.

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