Pushing back against the proposed Port Covington TIF

Tuesday July 26, 7:30PM

@ Red Emma's

Why are hundreds of millions of dollars of public money slated to be poured into constructing an enclave of privilege in Port Covington while East and West Baltimore continue to struggle against disinvestment and decay?  What would Baltimore City's development policies look like if we truly grasped the lessons of last April's uprising after the killing of Freddie Gray?  Why is this unprecedentedly large subsidy deal being rushed through with limited opportunities for public comment? The evening before the City Council begins its hearings on the proposed public financing of Kevin Plank's mini-city, we're hosting a discussion highlighting the reasons why Port Covington is a bad deal for a city that desperately needs more equitable development.


  • Charly Carter, Executive Director, Maryland Working Families 
  • Greg LeRoy, Executive Director, Good Jobs First
  • Dr. Lawrence Brown, Assistant Professor in the School of Community Health and Policy at Morgan State University
  • Barbara Samuels, Managing Attorney for ACLU of Maryland's Fair Housing Project
  • more TBA

But the Baltimore police verdicts also feel of a piece with the way of life in Baltimore these days. The city does in fact work — just not for disinvested black neighborhoods. It’s hard not to see the decisions in light of another big local story: a plan by Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armour, to use $660 million in city bonds — and $760 million in tax breaks — to build a mini-city on the edge of town, with 14,000 residential units and a headquarters for his company. In fact, the city planning commission held a hearing on the same day as the Goodson announcement, and most people expect a green light for Mr. Plank’s development. That project threatens to perpetuate Baltimore’s segregation and could siphon off resources that would otherwise go to places like Sandtown-Winchester. Supporters say that the development will result in higher overall tax revenues for the city, and thus more money for impoverished neighborhoods. But there’s little belief that Sandtown-Winchester will ever see that money. And it’s a matter of focus — instead of investing in the city we have, the Baltimore government would prefer to build a new one, and let the Freddie Grays of the world pay the price. —Lawrence Brown, The New York Times

We have to stand up and fight for one Baltimore while we can, before they sell our opportunity to do so. What critics of Port Covington are asking for is simple to provide: We want transparency on the deal, we want accountability if something goes wrong, and we want a significant "good jobs guarantee" that any and all jobs created by this taxpayer investment will include local hiring, living wages, full benefits and paid leave. We also believe that if we decide to build this giant corporate park, we need it to be accessible to everyone. Poor people on the west side should be able to access jobs on the east side. We need a transit system to ensure that investments in development in East Baltimore also benefit families in West Baltimore. —Charly Carter, The Baltimore Sun

‘We will build it together…’ is the Port Covington claim. What we should be building is a 21st Century model for the nation of how an old, rust belt, racially and economically segregated city can create a brand new racially and economically diverse community and an economic engine that generates inclusive growth and shared prosperity. We should show that Baltimore has learned a hard lesson: that the existence of “two Baltimores” — one empowered, wealthy and thriving, the other still redlined and marginalized – is no longer sustainable. The existence of “two Baltimore’s” has crushed a significant number of our fellow Baltimoreans, and undermines growth and economic mobility for us all.  [...] as it stands now, the Port Covington Master Plan is a prime example of structural inequality on a massive scale — and of the same old waterfront focused economic development approach that hasn’t worked to reverse Baltimore’s decline, and may have contributed in fact to the disinvestment in other neighborhoods. While “big and bold”, the vision is decidedly limited and old school trickle down economic development.MD ACLU & Public Justice Center, "Comments on the Port Covington Master Plan" 

Many proponents of TIF argue that improvements made under the program “pay for themselves.” That is, cities and towns assume that TIF will spur new development, increase property values, and create new tax revenue that would not have existed otherwise, which will be used to pay off the costs of the development. This is a risky wager since it assumes that “but for” the TIF, no development would have occurred in the TIF district and property values would have remained unchanged. In reality, it is impossible to know whether a project will successfully generate the anticipated tax increases. It is also difficult to determine whether property value increases that do occur in TIF districts were exclusively the result of the TIF. The “but for” provision in many TIF laws has already been weakened to allow TIF to be used on almost any project. In most states, TIF was originally intended for use only in areas deemed “blighted” or “distressed” where investment would not otherwise occur. Many states have since loosened their TIF criteria to allow TIF to be used to develop non-blighted and affluent neighborhoods. [...] In the end, the “but for” provisions of state TIF laws often fall by the wayside, allowing TIF to finance development that would happen anyway. This results in a loss of revenue that could have gone to pay for schools and local services. Given that the diversion of taxes continues until the TIF district expires, which is typically 7 to 30 years, the long-term fiscal impact can be quite significant. Good Jobs First, "Tax Increment Financing"

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