I read with interest the latest missive in the Baltimore Business Journal about your grand plans for the area around Port Covington. While I love the idea of someone finally redeveloping that area, since it’s been an eyesore for years, even before the Sam’s Club bolted for the hinterlands, something didn’t sit well with me. The part about how the community will benefit from your new development:
“No, the community will benefit and there should be a quid pro quo on both sides of it and we should all contribute.”
So here’s the thing, Mr. Plank, yes — the community that sits adjacent to your planned development — Locust Point — will probably benefit. They’ll have even more shops and restaurants, shiny new buildings to look at, and an overall jubilant sense (for the 10,000th time) that Baltimore is indeed “turning around”. Property values might even increase so many homeowners won’t be underwater anymore, so they can finally sell.
But unfortunately, those taxpayers aren’t the only ones contributing their tax dollars towards your $107 million TIF, or other public financing I’m sure the City Council is waiting with bated breath to hand over to you. Taxpayers all over the city just gave Michael Beatty $140 million to build Harbor Point, despite there being many signs indicating that it shouldn’t happen. And now you’re next in line, wanting taxpayers to help you — a man who, by all accounts, is a successful business man. (I’m a huge fan of Sagamore’s racehorses, by the way. Magnificent steeds, they are.) So I’m sure, as a successful business man, you understand the idea of being in the black vs being in the red. Let me enlighten you as to who you’re asking to “help” with your new development.
The majority of Baltimore City residents, 58% to be exact, earn less than $50,000 a year. You probably spend more than that every year on clothes and shoes. I probably would if I were you, no harm no foul. But to those folks, $50,000 doesn’t go very far. A lot of them have kids, and kids are expensive. They require things like food, and as a mom, I can tell you with 100% certainty that having a teenager in the house means you’re having to cash in Granny’s costume bling just to keep the kid in clothes and food. Plus, you know, there’s BGE and rent — rent that most people in Baltimore can’t pay without dipping into the rainy day fund, if they even have a rainy day fund — my guess is many people do not. And according to a study released late last year, 50% of Baltimore’s residents cannot afford market-rate rent — they’re paying over 30% of their net monthly income just to keep a roof over their heads.
Many of these folks have jobs, and work really hard — yet they’re just not making it. They’re in the red, or they soon will be. They simply can’t afford to help you, especially when their communities will not benefit from their largesse — most of the people who email me live in places like Park Heights, Pigtown, McElderry Park, Harlem Park, and other neighborhoods the City would rather sweep under the carpet. They don’t benefit from large development projects in Locust Point or Harbor Point, or anywhere, really. They don’t benefit directly, nor indirectly. Most of the folks I hear from who live in therse neighborhoods, frankly, have no idea where their tax money goes. The City cries broke and wants to close fire companies, yet here we are — being asked, yet again, to help finance a development that will only benefit a small part of our city.
Mr. Plank, what would you say if you were us? What would you tell a single mom in Harlem Park whose home (one that she bought, mind you) is sandwiched between two vacants, and she can’t sleep at night because she’s scared vagrants will burn the block down after breaking into the vacants? How much should she “help” with, out of her $28,000 annual salary? Or the elderly lady in Park Heights whose block along Reisterstown Road is more vacant than occupied — she lives on Social Security and a small pension, since retiring from the City school system as a teacher. She and her husband bought their home back in the 1960s, right around the year I was born. They paid about $8,000 for their home — and it’s not worth much more than that now. How much “help” should she give, and how would you explain your request in a way that wouldn’t make her lose her religion?
Don’t think I’m against this development, because I’m not. I think it’s a great idea, and that parcel of land has been an eyesore since the first knucklehead came along with a grand scheme of putting in a shopping center that never materialized. But as a taxpayer, as a resident, and as a mom — I’ll say the same thing to you that I would say to my 14 year old son when he asks for a pair of Under Armour shoes: “Sorry, kiddo, it’s not in the budget.” We’ve had to make do with less in Baltimore City for so long — it’s time developers and our government do the same.