It is the best of times and the worst of times for Port Covington.

It is the best of times because Baltimore needs new investment and a broader tax base, and post-industrial Port Covington contains some of the most valuable, renewable waterfront in the nation. It is the worst of times because Port Covington demands huge financial support from a city with limited resources and chronic social ills pushed into the global spotlight by the death of Freddie Gray in April 2015.


Because of what happened last spring, there's more pushback on the Port Covington proposal than its visionary, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, might have expected. Some see him as the city's post-riot savior. Others look at his proposal and see not only another millionaire with his hand out, but, more importantly, a real conflict with a new paradigm.

That paradigm took shape last year when many of us pledged, publicly and privately, to never again ignore the plight of our fellow citizens who have lived in poverty for generations, who see little hope for a long, bright future as residents of Baltimore.

Following Gray's death and its aftermath, many well-meaning people — from leaders of institutions to corporate executives to candidates for City Council — expressed determination to finally change the way we do things around here, from how we police our neighborhoods to how (and where) we go about fixing the communities left out of the vaunted Baltimore renaissance.

That represented a real awakening to the problems that have kept too many citizens from enjoying social and economic progress. We looked at our history — segregation and concentrated poverty, the loss of industry and high unemployment, the war on drugs and mass incarceration. We looked at current conditions — the cycle of poverty, the high incidence of heroin addiction, the tension between police and black citizens, the lack of transformative investment in old neighborhoods, the shortcomings of public schools. From all of that came genuine resolve to change, at long last.

Baltimore had been shocked into facing realities many of us have been pointing out for years, and people responded. That energy is still there, and good thing.

So when the proposal for the massive redevelopment of Port Covington came along, less than a year after the unrest of April 2015, there were two reactions — the standard "no-brainer" reaction and a pushback informed by the Baltimore Uprising.

The no-brainer reaction: God bless Kevin Plank. He truly loves Baltimore. He wants to build a new corporate campus for UA but, more than that, he wants to build a city attached to the city and bring new businesses and thousands of tax-paying residents here. He's asking the city for $535 million in tax increment financing, or a TIF. That's not a tax break, but a clever way of getting infrastructure built and paid off with new property taxes. What's not to like? Plank's timing is great. The Port Covington TIF is a no-brainer.

But then came the pushback: Hold on. The Port Covington TIF is the biggest in city history. Why are we tying up so much in municipal bonds for another wealthy developer who wants to create a city attached to the city, and mostly for well-paid, professional-class workers and empty-nesters? Won't racial and social segregation proliferate? What about West Baltimore? What about East Baltimore? Didn't we all just agree that the city's priorities need to change? If we're going to be floating bonds for major projects, shouldn't it be in the residential neighborhoods we've neglected? At the very least, shouldn't Port Covington make more room than currently pledged for low-income Baltimoreans and their children, desperate for better places to live?

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland made these points in objecting to the current plan, calling it structural inequality on a massive scale. "We should show," the ACLU said in a letter to the city Planning Commission, "that Baltimore has learned a hard lesson: that the existence of 'two Baltimores' — one empowered, wealthy and thriving, the other still redlined and marginalized — is no longer sustainable."

Of course, the commission was the latest city board to approve Plank's plan for Port Covington. The planning director, Thomas Stosur, said a project of this scale should be "a source of pride for all of us," and added: "We can't expect one particular development to all of a sudden solve all these problems and challenges that have been issues for generations."

No, but it would be a good start. If Port Covington is really to be "transformative," really a "source of pride," then city officials should recognize the new paradigm and insist that, in return for the huge taxpayer support, this project be more than just a city attached to a city, an affluent enclave on Baltimore's southern edge. Make it more inclusive. Make it an answer to April 2015, as everything must in some way be.