The seemingly unending Federal Hill bar wars: Residents vs. liquor interests. Old Baltimore vs. New Baltimore. “NIMBY’s in the city!” “Booze-loving ‘bro’s from the county!”
The Cross Street Market liquor license bill, set for a hearing in Annapolis today, is the latest focus of multiple, heated, years-long debates over the future of the facility and the identity of South Baltimore.
But it also represents something pretty simple: Cold cash.
There’s a lot at stake with HB 1348/SB 1035, the so-called “The 46th District Alcoholic Beverages Act of 2017,” and it goes beyond the makeover for the city-owned market.
• The bill creates a special multi-vendor liquor license for Cross Street Market, sought by Towson-based Caves Valley Partners, which has a highly favorable agreement with the city to upgrade and manage the facility.
UPDATE: An initial draft of the amendment adding Cross Street Market to the bill set a $50,000 annual fee for the license which was to drop down to $10,000 if the developer extinguished the two licenses in the market.
But the version approved unanimously by the Baltimore City delegation after yesterday’s hearing reduces the annual fee to $6,500 and allows the fee to drop to $2,500 a year if the developer is able to extinguish one of the two existing licenses – Nick’s Seafood and Big Jim’s Deli.
• The bill also allows for five new liquor licenses to be issued for a major retail/ and luxury apartment project rising in Locust Point called Anthem House. The project’s developers include the Greenbelt-based Bozzuto Group and Scott Plank’s War Horse LLC.
• It also allows a liquor license to be issued for Port Covington, the massive mixed-use project undertaken by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s private company, Sagamore Development.
For these assorted developers, the legislation is a boon, given that their projects are in a part of South Baltimore where state lawmakers decades ago imposed tight restrictions on new licenses because of the high number of liquor licenses already there.
As a result, businesses hoping to serve alcohol in this booming bar-and-restaurant-oriented part of town have had to pay as much as $100,000-$500,000 to acquire an existing license.
The Brew looked at how much in campaign contributions these projects’ developers gave to key lawmakers who drafted the bill and to other city officials whose support moved the projects and bill forward.
About $77,687 went to the campaign coffers of these elected officials, based on a review of documents on file with the State Board of Elections and other online sources.
Also, at least one of the entities retained high-end lobbying help.
War Horse LLC paid $35,000 in 2016 to the Harris Jones & Malone lobbying firm to promote real estate development and alcohol beverage licensing at Anthem House, according to state Ethics Commission lobbying reports.
Including those lobbying costs, we documented a total of $112,687 in political donations and lobbying paid out by companies involved in the Cross Street Market project or the other projects affected by the bill.
Of that total, Caves Valley entities alone accounted for more than $51,000 in contributions.
The Brew reviewed contributions received by the two 46th District lawmakers who were central to drafting the bill, Sen. Bill Ferguson and Del. Luke Clippinger.
We also looked at contributions to the city council representative in whose district the market is located, Councilman Eric T. Costello, who chaired the Cross Street Market Advisory Committee and spoke publicly about his extensive involvement working with community and other stakeholders on the issue.
Another key player in Caves Valley’s bid to run the market was Stephanie Rawlings-Blake who, as mayor, controlled the Board of Estimates.
One month before she left office, the spending board approved a management agreement that gave a Caves Valley entity power to renovate and manage the market with favorable terms: 50-50 profit-sharing and the $10,000-per-month rent locked in for 50 years.
Since then, Mayor Catherine Pugh – amid controversy over the treatment of the current merchants, fears the license might exacerbate the neighborhood’s bar problems and the wisdom of a lease some called “a sweetheart deal” – stayed largely quiet.
The Brew documented that:
• “Citizens for Bill Ferguson” received a total of $17,500 from 2013 to 2017, with $9,500 coming from Caves Valley Partners and affiliates, $4,500 coming Bozzuto and subsidiaries, and $3,500 coming from War Horse.
• “Friends of Luke Clippinger” received $2,750 from Caves Valley and associated entities during those same years.
• “Eric Costello for Baltimore” received a total of $10,000 from 2014-2016, with $7,000 coming from Caves Valley and its subsidiaries, $2,000 from Bozzuto-related LLCs, and $1,000 from Scott Plank/War Horse.
• “The Committee to Elect Catherine E. Pugh” received a total of $33,437 nearly all of it in 2016. Of that: $18,000 from Caves Valley entities or principals, $14,437 from Bozzuto Group principals or entities, and $1,000 from War Horse.
• “Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for Baltimore” received $14,000 from Caves Valley and affiliates, mostly in 2013 and 2014 when Caves Valley’s Stadium Square Project and Horseshoe Casino Baltimore were moving forward. (Caves Valley has a minority stake in the casino.)
• Lisa Harris Jones and Sean Malone were paid $35,000 ($17,500 each) to represent War Horse between July 26, 2016 and October 31, 2016, the end of the reporting period.
Their lobbying involved “matters related to real estate development and alcohol beverage licensing,” according to documents on file with the Maryland Ethics Commission.
Part of the lobbying paperwork filed by Jones and Malone included a reference to Tisha Edwards, currently Mayor Pugh’s chief of staff, who was a senior official at War Horse and an affiliated charity prior to her City Hall appointment in December.
– Mark Reutter contributed to this story.