BALTIMORE -- A $5.5 billion redevelopment effort that aims to transform a mostly forsaken Baltimore waterfront is moving forward, as officials held a Monday groundbreaking for the latest phase of what's been touted as one of America's biggest urban renewal efforts.
Developers and politicians held the ceremonial gathering for the Port Covington redevelopment vision conceived by Kevin Plank, CEO of athletic-wear maker Under Armour. Before donning a hard hat and grabbing a shovel for photographers, Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young portrayed the ambitious project as "vitally important" to the future of Maryland's biggest city.
"All the pieces are coming together," said Young, a longtime City Council leader who was recently vaulted into the mayor's office after his predecessor resigned amid federal, city and state corruption investigations.
One of the redevelopment project's owners is investment banking giant Goldman Sachs. Margaret Anadu, head of the New York-based company's urban investment group, was one of several officials who described the Port Covington plans as transformative for Baltimore, a city struggling with generational poverty and intense violent crime and beset by a recent stream of headlines focusing on alleged public corruption.
"We don't care what people have to say about the city. We believe in it," Anadu said at the redevelopment site, located adjacent to I-95 on a swath of South Baltimore waterfront.
Baltimore has a vested interest in making the project successful. In 2016, the city authorized a $660 million tax increment financing deal to pave the way for the Port Covington plans.
The entire 235-acre (95-hectare) redevelopment effort, transforming the waterfront into an 18 million-square-foot (1.67 million sq. meter) mixed-use complex, will take as long as 25 years to complete. Ultimately it would include some 2 ½ miles (4 kilometers) of restored waterfront, roughly 40 acres (16.2 hectares) of parks and green space, as well as ample retail, residential and hotel space. Developers envision thousands of new jobs at Port Covington, the planned location of Under Armour's headquarters and a hoped-for cybersecurity hub.
In the next few years, a market area featuring four buildings totaling 275,000 square feet (25,548 square meters) is set to be delivered along with a 300,000 square foot (27,871 square meter) office building and three residential properties. Weller Development is overseeing the build-out for owners Sagamore Development and Goldman Sachs.
"The project is real. The project is starting. We're open for business. New companies are moving here. Outside investors, we're looking to bring them into Baltimore," said Marc Weller, head of Weller Development, who also announced a partnership with the ride-sharing company Lyft to provide $2 rides anywhere in the greater South Baltimore area.
Port Covington is currently the home of a distillery owned by Plank, a high-end tavern and a fish restaurant and a few other enterprises. While there's plenty of excitement about the overall project, not everyone sees it as offering the kind of "inclusive" economic vision needed to truly transform Baltimore.
Lawrence Brown, an associate professor at Morgan State University's School of Community Health and Policy, forecasts that Baltimore's subsidies will only continue a "long legacy of racial hypersegregation and intense poverty concentration" in one of America's poorest cities.
"It will exacerbate current economic inequality and allow Sagamore Development Corporation and Under Armour to reap the windfall of a tremendous public subsidy while redlined black neighborhoods will continue to languish due to a city government that caters to corporate developers," Brown asserted Monday.
But Baltimore's elected leaders say they believe it will build more economic opportunity for everyone. And some community leaders already see it as a showcase for redevelopment done the right way.
"This deal has set a precedent for how development should be done with public subsidies," said Terrell Williams, one of the main organizers for the influential community improvement group Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, or BUILD, and co-director of a job-training organization.
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