Baltimore City Council members to force vote on Port Covington deal today

"The feeling among the entire group is we're ready for the project to move forward," councilman says.

A majority of Baltimore City Council members have signed a petition to force a vote today that would greenlight the Port Covington development, bypassing the committee where necessary legislation has stalled.

Eleven of 15 council members have signed a petition circulated by Councilman Eric T. Costello, who represents South Baltimore, the home of the Port Covington project.

Those signing the petition are council members James Kraft, Brandon Scott, Robert W. Curran, Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, Sharon Green Middleton, Nick J. Mosby, Helen Holton, William "Pete" Welch, Ed Reisinger, Costello and Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

"The feeling among the entire group is we're ready for the project to move forward," Costello said. "We've had ample amount of time to review the merits of the project. We've reached a great deal for the city."

The Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee, chaired by Councilman Carl Stokes, unexpectedly stopped short Thursday night of approving $660 million in bonds for Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's Port Covington development. After approving two of three necessary bills, Stokes abruptly called the meeting to a close without explanation.

Stokes later told reporters he was concerned that the public had not had time to thoroughly review the $100 million deal Plank's Sagamore Development Co. made with the city. The agreement had been announced hours earlier.

Stokes also expressed concern about projections that show city schools would lose millions of dollars in state funding as a result of the project.

But Costello said the deal between the Port Covington developers and the city addresses those concerns.

It states that the developer will not request any bonds be issued "if there is a projected negative impact on State education funding for Baltimore City Schools."

"The committee chairman has committed his support to the bill," Costello said. "His outstanding concerns concerning education funding have been alleviated."

Two of three bills authorizing the bond deal for Port Covington are up for a vote Monday before the 15-member City Council. Stokes' committee passed them, 3-0, Thursday night. The bills create a special taxing district for the Port Covington development.

The bill that didn't get a committee vote would authorize the $660 million in bonds, which would pay for roads, utilities and other infrastructure. The bill could be forced out of committee if eight members of the City Council vote to do so.

Stokes and some other council members have said they would oppose such a petition.

If the bills are approved by the full City Council Monday, they would still need one more vote next week to advance to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for her signature. 

Sagamore, the Rawlings-Blake administration, key City Council members and the community group Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development — which had opposed the project — spent weeks negotiating the community benefits deal, thought to be key in winning the council's approval of the Port Covington project.

The $100 million deal 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 for no-interest loans or other funding streams for minority- or women-owned startup businesses.

The developers also agreed to hire at least 30 percent of all infrastructure construction workers from Baltimore, pay a minimum wage of at least $17.48 an hour, and set aside 20 percent of housing units for poor and middle-class families — though 40 percent of such housing may be built elsewhere in the city.

Sagamore has proposed a mixed-use waterfront development that would include a new headquarters for Under Armour, restaurants, shops, housing and manufacturing space, among other features. 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.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater 

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