Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Maryland taxpayers to sink $166M into Baltimore Harborplace scheme

It's deja vu all over again in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. A great gem - a doorstep to the city, if you will! - has somehow fallen into disrepair. But it's not up to the property owner, nor the elected officials who've run the city it's the doorstep to the whole time, to sacrifice for a solution. No, it's you, the hardworking taxpayer of Maryland who must step in, and share your hard-earned dollars with very wealthy developers. Stop me if you've heard this before. 

Are we talking about Union Station in Washington, D.C.? No, it's the Harborplace development in Baltimore. But both now share a special pedigree. These properties have failed...twice. And each time, the taxpayer has involuntarily-volunteered to pick up the tab for "renewal" and "rejuvenation." 

You can't entirely blame the political machines of Charm City and the District of Columbia. They know both cities are more transient than most in America. And both are rapidly gentrifying African-American residents out of their homes and neighborhoods, to make room for more luxury condos for rich, white people. Why, you probably haven't lived here long enough to realize this isn't the first time the city's gemstone was tarnished.

Except, some of us have. I remember when Union Station and the Inner Harbor were said to be in desperate need of revitalization. Some years, and many more taxpayer dollars later, we were told the effort was successful. Shops! Restaurants! Gleaming and new!

Three decades pass.

And suddenly, it's happened again.

Union Station and Harborplace are derelict! They're outdated and have fallen behind the times! Nobody goes there anymore! Wealthy development firms are standing by to save the day, but...they're going to need your help. So they're going to cut us in on the deal? We'll earn a dividend for the tax dollars we're putting up, just like the other investors?

Oh, no. And your investment is not optional. We just rammed it through in Annapolis. The taxpayers of Maryland - yes, even you in the hinterlands, are going to fork over $166 million. And Baltimore City residents, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck, get to hand over an additional $1 million.

Why are Union Station and Harborplace "derelict and underperforming?" The tenants! Well, wait a minute. Union Station has Shake Shack, Pret-a-Manger, Au Bon Pain and CAVA, names about as hip as train station commercial retail can get. Tourist-driven Harborplace has tourist traps like UNO Chicago Grill, Johnny Rockets and Hooters - it even has The Cheesecake Factory, for Pete's sake! What else would you want to eat by the water? 

Want local, small businesses instead? Charge a rent they can afford for the empty storefronts. 

Well, it's not the tenants or the times, you see. Why don't people want to go to Harborplace or Union Station?

It's that the D.C. government let crime and the homeless take over Union Station. Columbus Circle at sunrise can resemble a giant bedroom, as the least-fortunate of Washington awake from slumber among scurrying rats and trash. Baltimore City let crime run rampant in the Inner Harbor, with tourists often the target. At some point, elected officials have to be held accountable. This is a novel idea in Washington and Baltimore.

$166 million? You could put 415 homeless people into permanent homes in the D.C. area, and even more in Baltimore, for that amount. It could be a not-insubstantial down payment on building the Red Line, especially the Dollar General version of the Red Line pols are cynically trying to pass off on West Baltimore these days. "By the time the buses start running, those voters will have been gentrified out of there, anyway," elected officials must figure. Imagine the parks you could build. Or schools that actually have air conditioning!!

But a better recipient than the general public has been found - wealthy and well-financed developers. The public involuntarily gives generously. Buildings are demolished. New ones rise in their place. The property is sold. Profits are made. Elected officials fail to execute their basic functions to provide a strong business climate, maintain city infrastructure and ensure public safety. 

And the cycle starts over again. We've seen this here in Montgomery County, where a greedy mall buyer along with County officials allowing crime to get out of control led to the demise of Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg. As long as our elected officials get away with directing our money to their developer sugar daddies, we'll see it again.

Inner Harbor crime:

"Inner Harbor Mayhem"

"Death at Baltimore's Inner Harbor"

"Dangerous at night"

"3 people robbed at gunpoint in Inner Harbor"

"New Jersey family attacked at Baltimore's Inner Harbor"

"If this is what a Saturday night at the Harbor is going to be like, we will not be going there"


  1. Amen, brother. So true.

    1. So false!
      This is an exceptionally poorly researched diatribe, Robert.

      Only a small fraction of the $166M is earmarked for the PUBLIC - not PRIVATE - Inner Harbor promenade.
      None of the $166M (which was allocated two budget cycles ago under Hogan - you're way late to the game, Robert) goes towards the new Harborplace developer. The developer didn't even own the property when the money was allocated.

      $50M of the $166M was previously spent moving state employees out of State Center so that area can be redeveloped. The remaining money is earmarked for:

      $11.5 million for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore to create innovative and safe spaces throughout downtown
      $7.5 million to start renovating the Inner Harbor Promenade with an additional $60 million pre-authorized in fiscal 2024 and fiscal 2025
      $7.5 million to raze Baltimore City Community College’s Bard Building near Power Plant Live! and temporarily transform it into a green space until further development can occur
      $5.5 million for the Reginald F. Lewis Museum
      $5 million for the National Aquarium
      $5 million for streetscaping the new Warner Street Entertainment District between M&T Bank Stadium and the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore
      $4 million for a second phase of redevelopment at Rash Field Park, with planning to start next month for a concept that includes more open space, gardens and exercise equipment
      $3.25 million for Port Discovery
      $3 million for the Maryland Science Center
      $2.5 million for the USS Constellation
      $750,000 for the Pride of Baltimore II
      $400,000 for the Peale Center
      $200,000 for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.

      Now add up all the state money that's spent in MoCo, Robert. I'll wait.

    2. 10:48: I think it's very knowledgeable piece, providing the full context that's lacking in the the cheerleading media coverage of this as another "dead mall" story.

      The list of projects you are detailing are almost always the type of upgrades or improvements that a *developer* suggests or promises to deliver, in exchange for the opportunity to exceed current zoning, and realize massive profits in later reselling one of the most valuable pieces of waterfront property in the Mid-Atlantic.

      Here, the opposite is happening. We're paying for the "pleasure" of providing greater profits to a private enterprise.

      Of course state money is spent in Montgomery County - and every other county. That doesn't mean we can't critique when such spending is not in the public interest.

  2. Where are the crime stats for robberies of tourists in the harbor, or is that an anecdote?

  3. It's shameful.to.send.tex.payers money when.the.city.looks like a slim in a . already over congested area while the rest of the city is in.need of help throwing good..money.. on the.same thing Deal with crime and youth employment year round like in the 70s renew people not buildings and put new leadership in city hall a city is only as good as its leader