Asked to comment on the revised Community Benefit Agreement between the city, the faith and community group BUILD and the company developing Port Covington for Kevin Plank, Councilman Carl Stokes had a dry observation:
“Everyone’s going to tout it tomorrow as the best agreement of its kind ever, but given how lousy these agreements have been in Baltimore, that’s not much of a tout,” Stokes said, going on to praise Plank’s Sagamore Development Company and dump on City Hall.
“I do think Sagamore has bargained in good faith in these last three weeks,” said Stokes, who as chairman of the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee has been the point person on the Council for three bills the project needs to get $660 million in public Tax Increment (TIF) financing and move forward.
“There are some great elements here,” Stokes said, confirming some bare-bones details of the new Memorandum of Understanding to be unveiled tomorrow, including that it had gone from a 10% voluntary affordable housing provision to a 20% requirement.
He said he was still studying the document and didn’t know whether loopholes weaken the housing requirements, as some have said.
But Stokes also blasted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), saying, “I am most pissed at the city. They have been the worst player in all this.”
In the past, he said, the city has pushed through TIF deals such as the one for for Harbor Point “that gave us zilch.”
“The bills they gave us here were almost totally a corporate subsidy with nothing for the taxpayer,” Stokes said, taking credit for the way he “slowed the process down, holding all these work sessions.”
“Tomorrow the mayor will be there taking credit, but she’s been no help at all,” he said. “All they gave us was a weak package to begin with.”
“Changing the Paradigm”
News of the impending announcement was released by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, whose afternoon press release called it “the largest ever city-wide Community Benefits Commitment in Baltimore’s history.”
Mayor Rawlings-Blake, officials from BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) and Sagamore are scheduled to appear tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the City Garage at 101 West Dickman Street at Port Covington, Young’s office said in a release.
BUILD leaders today praised the deal, though they declined to provide details.
“This is a historic agreement that will change the paradigm of development in Baltimore,” said Andrew Foster Connors, BUILD’s clergy co-chair.
“Prior to the negotiation, there was an agreement with nebulous goals and promises,” Foster Connors said. “After the negotiation, there are specific mandates around local hiring, workforce development, and affordable housing that the developer will be required to meet.”
“Never again,” he said, “will a developer come to the public subsidy trough without concrete mandates around local hiring, workforce development, and affordable housing.”
Others Rejected Developer’s Offer
BUILD and two other coalition groups, Port3 and Build Up Baltimore, had been engaged in 10 days of closed-door negotiations with Sagamore, which is seeking $660 million in public financing for the mixed-use development.
But on Friday, after the company issued an “empty” take-it-or-leave-it final offer, Port3 and Build Up leaders said, they decided mutually to reject the offer.
They said loopholes in the affordable housing provision of the deal the company was offering meant only about 5% of the project’s proposed 5,320 units would be affordable to families at 80% of Average Median Income, or roughly $66,000 for a family of four.
They said Sagamore was even more reluctant to include units for the very poorest residents.
Under their final offer, said Charly Carter, of Maryland Working Families, Sagamore was promising no more than 2% of the 5,300 residences it expects to construct would be priced for households earning 30% of AMI.
Port3 and Build Up, which represent 167 faith, social justice, housing, labor and community groups in the city, are calling on Council members to strengthen housing, jobs and other provisions of the Port Covington legislation before moving the bills forward.