Following weeks of protests and rallies against city backing of a private real estate development, the Baltimore city council voted Aug. 12 to fund needed infrastructure for Harbor Point, a development that is slated to rest on a portion of the city’s waterfront.
The planned mix of residences and commercial businesses, which is to include the headquarters of energy giant Exelon, is to sprawl over 27.4 acres and expected to cost $1 billion to build.
“I believe it can help make Baltimore a better place,” said Michael Beatty, Harbor Point developer of Beatty Development Group LLC.
Developers said in recent statements that the waterfront will be used as a cultural attraction to bring in additional tourists to the Inner Harbor.
Councilmen Carl Stokes and Bill Henry voted against the bill along with Councilwoman Sharon Middleton. Eleven council members supported the measure to sell $100 million in municipal bonds to finance construction of roads, parks and other infrastructure elements that would be the backbone of the planned development.
“I’m not surprised some of my colleagues decided to shut down the democratic process,” Stokes told reporters. “People said they wanted to talk about this bill, we continue to talk about it and said there should be some altering done, yet some of my colleagues decided to shut down that discussion.”
Stokes said 35 years ago Harbor Place, the first wave of development in the city’s Inner Harbor, “was a great place and I supported and said it was great.” Now, he said, “It’s not so good right now, is it?”
During the Aug. 12 council meeting, many community activists said they expect the bill to pass, which would possibly bring more congestion and development pressure to the Baltimore waterfront.
Kim Trueheart, a vocal foe of the development, said the council’s action ignores grassroots activists, she said. “These bills fail to meet the objective. Surely what’s happening here doesn’t look like they are including us.”
During the nearly two-hour meeting Trueheart was almost dismissed from the meeting for being disruptive, forcing City Council President Jack Young to shout, “Ms. Trueheart, that’s your last warning because you are out of order.”
“The city is giving away money, they are cutting workers and cutting benefits,” Joseph Armstrong, of Northeast Baltimore, echoed Truehart’s objections.
There is “too much money going toward too many developers without enough investigation,” he said. “We all want the city to grow, but not at that cost.”
Stokes said that when Harbor Place was being developed, the proportion of Baltimore residents living in poverty rose from 17 to 25 percent. A developed Harbor Point is “going to be great to the developers, but it’s not going to be such a benefit to the rest.”
Councilman James Kraft, who lives in Harbor Point, aggressively supported the $1 billion project.