The massive public financing deal for the Port Covington development project in South Baltimore moved one step closer to becoming law on Monday after a 12-0 preliminary vote of approval by the Baltimore City Council.
Sagamore Development – the Kevin Plank-backed developer behind the proposal – announced last week that it had reached an agreement with the city to make one-fifth of its rental housing into units for low- and middle-income families, recruit at least 30 percent of construction workers from within the city and pay a $17.48 minimum wage to all workers.
In exchange, the city would agree to provide $660 million in tax increment financing (TIF) bonds to fund the 260-acre project.
If and when construction is finished, Port Covington would be home to a $5.5 billion mixed-use development complete with restaurants, shops, and a new Under Armour campus.
The agreement, now written into three zoning bills, will take effect if it is approved by the City Council and signed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Last Thursday, the council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee moved only two of the three bills forward. Councilman Carl Stokes, chair of the committee, surprised his colleagues by calling the hearing to a close, leaving a third bill in limbo. Stokes said he made the move to give city residents more time to read over the Memorandum of Understanding reached between the developer and the city. He also voiced concerns about how the project may impact education funding for city schools.
However, during a hearing on Monday night, 11 councilmembers signed a petition to force a preliminary vote the third bill, according to The Baltimore Sun. The council then voted 12-0, with three members abstaining, to move the bills to a second reading. That vote is expected to take place next Monday.
Community groups have met with councilmembers and Sagamore throughout the summer to voice their concerns and request components of the deal that would ensure Baltimore City residents – not just developers and the city – reap the rewards.
Developers have already agreed to provide $39 million to six South Baltimore neighborhoods over the next 20 years.
On its website, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), one of several organizations that urged the council to move the bills forward to a final vote on Monday, called the agreement “a new day in Baltimore.”
“Has everything we went to the table to negotiate been won? No, but significant steps have been taken that create a new development paradigm for Baltimore City,” BUILD wrote on its website. “We have a long way to go, but this is an historic start.”
Not everyone is happy. Frank Patinella of the Baltimore Education Coalition told The Baltimore Sun that said the city still needs to agree to account for potential school funding losses to earn the coalition’s support.
“The City Council ought to affirm its commitment to fill in any funding loss to city schools since it is not yet known if the state will fully exempt city schools from any reduction in state funding,” he told The Sun.
If the full council approves all three bills next week, the deal will move to Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s desk. She is expected to sign off on all components.
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