Baltimore City Hall was filled last night with both supporters and opponents of a bill that would provide $107-million in "Tax Increment Financing" (TIF) for the controversial Harbor Point development project.
The TIF was the subject of a meeting of the City Council’s taxation committee.
Councilman Jim Kraft, who represents the district where Harbor Point is located, said that he is supporting the proposed TIF because the neighborhoods he represents support it. Kraft says that the project will bring the area much needed open space.... noting that currently "there really is no park in Harbor East for all the folks that are down there; they come to go the movies; they come to the restaurants; they come to do that, but there is no place for them if they just want to come and just enjoy the water."
Harbor Point Developer Michael Beatty also testified before the committee in support of the TIF. Beatty said he appreciates the efforts that have gone into the deal, including "working with the developer and attracting private capital to go in and invest dollars in what will be city owned infrastructure predominantly for the benefit for the residents of this city."
Rod Easter, president of the Baltimore Building and Construction Trades Council, said he also supports the project. "We have to get something going," Easter said, "We got to do something that stimulates this city and gets some economic development going. This project will do it."
The Baltimore Development Corporation testified that the project would result in 7-thousand construction jobs and 33-hundred permanent jobs.
But there were opponents. About 100 people protested outside city hall before the committee meeting.
They called the TIF the biggest raid on city finances in Baltimore's history, and argued that it'll take money from schools and poor people and give it to a wealthy developer.
At last night's committee meeting, the Rev. Glenna Huber, a clergy co-chair of BUILD, spoke out against the plan saying it highlights downtown developers benefiting on the backs of uptown residents. She said that she's fine with the development, but not with the current plans to finance it.
"If you want to build a park, or I think that this is five parks at Harbor Point, do it," Huber said. "Just don’t use our tax money to build a park where Baltimore citizens may never get to or feel welcome to fully utilize."
The city council’s taxation committee needs to approve the deal for it to move forward… but the Baltimore Sun notes that the committee is chaired by a staunch opponent of the development, Councilman Carl Stokes.
Yet even if the financing stalls in the taxation committee, City Council President "Jack" Young says he’ll make sure it makes it before the full Council. He might have to use a parliamentary maneuver to do that.
Council President Young says he is supporting the bill because it will bring much needed jobs to the city. Young said Harbor Point is "going to hire people who actually live in this city and its also going to have training programs to get people trained and ready for these jobs."
The City Council’s taxation committee is planning to hold a work session on the project next month.