Sagamore Development’s Port Covington proposal continues to face roadblocks as the Baltimore City Council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee stopped short of passing the $600 million-plus TIF proposal package during a Sept. 8 meeting.
Councilman Carl Stokes (District 5)
Councilman Carl Stokes (District 5), unexpectedly adjourned the committee meeting after passing only two of three bills needed to present a complete Port Covington package to the full City Council at its next meeting on Sept. 12.
Despite the establishment of a revised Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) providing more than $100 million in community benefits based on demands made by community groups, Sagamore officials were not able to convince the committee to move the Port Covington proposal on the fast track.
Council members Bill Henry (District 4) and Warren Branch (District 13) expressed reservations that led Stokes to stop the meeting short of voting on the third part of the Port Covington package, the creation of a special taxing district – i.e. the proposed $600 million-plus Port Covington TIF. The Taxation, Finance and Economic Development committee split 3-2 in favor of the first two Port Covington bills – creating a Port Covington Development District and issuing a city-backed bond for the Port Covington Project.
“I cannot say that at this point all of my concerns have been addressed,” said Councilman Henry in declining to approve the legislation. “I would like to have time to get clarification (on the revised MOU) and give people an opportunity to review it.”
Earlier in the day, Mayor Stephanie Rawlins Blake, City Council Chair Bernard C. “Jack” Young and other City Council members, Port Covington executives and community advocates celebrated the newly negotiated MOU with a press conference at City Garage, located in the Port Covington Community near the site of the proposed multi-billion-dollar mixed use development.
“What we are announcing today is not big, it is huge – it is transformational,” said Plank Industries CEO Tom Geddes.
Representatives from BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), one of the city-wide community advocacy groups that was previously staunchly opposed to the Port Covington proposal, spoke glowingly at both the press conference and the City Council hearing on behalf of the new agreement brokered with Sagamore Development.
“No longer will downtown Baltimore benefit to the exclusion of Uptown,” said the Rt. Rev. Douglas Miles, bishop of the Koinonia Baptist Church and former co-chair of BUILD. He added, “While this deal is not perfect, it’s a long way from where we started.”
Despite the new MOU, the War Memorial Building was filled with skeptics who raised concerns that the agreement still failed to take into account the economic and social realities of Baltimore residents.
“What we are talking about is building an apartheid Baltimore; one that is based on race and class,” said Sharon Black of the Peoples Power Assembly in testimony before the City Council committee. Black and others who testified said the revised Port Covington project proposal still creates “two Baltimore’s.”
Stokes himself expressed hesitation, saying in spite of concessions made in the new MOU, the agreement still lacked language guaranteeing profit sharing as well as protection for Baltimore City Public Schools if the state of Maryland reduces its funding levels.
“I believe strongly that the citizens of Baltimore need a strong profit sharing agreement. I am not yet satisfied with the wording of ‘hold harmless’ in education,” he told the committee.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who is not a member of the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee, presented an amendment that would require the Port Covington Project to pay a living wage to all part- and full-time workers involved with the Port Covington project. Additionally, Clark’s amendment calls for a universal site-wide right of workers to organize.
The new Port Covington MOU requires a minimum wage of $17.48 plus benefits for all tradesmen and women working on the project, but stopped short of wage minimums for permanent workers who will be involved with the project. The agreement calls for a mandated 30 percent hiring minimum of Baltimore City residents.