Mayor Catherine Pugh met with former NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson on Thursday to discuss opportunities for him to invest in Baltimore, fulfilling a long-held goal as she seeks to attract private capital to the city.
“He wants to see the city,” Pugh said, “He’s excited about the leadership.”
The mayor said she rattled through her list of top prospects and hopes with Johnson — a movie theater at Mondawmin Mall; new tax breaks for investing in struggling neighborhoods; a city-backed investment fund; projects in Park Heights and the planned overhaul of Perkins Homes.
Pugh said Johnson planned to return to Baltimore in September to take a closer look.
“It’s hard to turn Mayor Pugh down, she’s doing a wonderful job of improving developers like myself and other to invest in Baltimore,” Johnson said in an interview with WBAL-TV. “She has a fantastic plan for the city.”
Johnson, the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, famously played for the team throughout the 1980s.
But he’s also had a second career as an investor, focusing on projects in urban areas through his firm Magic Johnson Enterprises.
“We’re ready to write checks,” Johnson said in the television interview. He declined, through a spokeswoman, to comment for this article.
Johnson has previously been involved in developing a mixed-use building near the Johns Hopkins University campus. In 2005, her partnered with a local developer on what was planned as a $90 million project.
Since taking office, Pugh has worked to bring private developers to Baltimore and spur interest in projects in long-overlooked neighborhoods.
The federal government recently approved the creation of so-called opportunity zones in the city, which give investors special tax treatment when they strike deals inside their borders. The city is also in the middle of launching a neighborhood investment fund with seed money from the leasing of parking garages.
The mayor has yet to claim a major trophy. The development projects and new streams of money that are her focus are still in their early stages.