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Harbor Point project gets money for road upgrades, new bridge

A regional transportation board unanimously approved Tuesday the city's request to transfer federal money from several projects to pay for improvements to South Central Avenue and a bridge to connect it to the proposed site of the Exelon Corp. headquarters at Harbor Point.

The decision was made despite objections by members of a citizens advisory group who questioned the city's priorities and said residents in the area were not briefed properly on the $33 million project.

Jamie Kendrick, the city's deputy transportation director, told fellow members of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board that shifting money to the Central Avenue and Harbor Point Bridge account would not come at the expense of other projects. Bids on some projects came in under estimate while others have been delayed in the planning process.

Federal law requires transportation board approval before funds can be moved, a fairly routine process.

Exelon is negotiating with Harbor East Development Group LLC, led by bakery magnate and developer John Paterakis Sr., to build a 22-story, 500,000-square-foot building as part of the $250 million first phase of the Harbor Point development. Exelon expects to use all but 100,000 square feet for its regional headquarters.

Eventually, the 27.3-acre waterfront site, formerly that of a chromium processing plant, is expected to have retail space, up to 1,000 residential units, a hotel and a park and promenade. The site, polluted from more than century of processing, has been capped at a cost of more than $100 million to protect the public and the harbor, and is being monitored.

The only access is via South Caroline Street, a bottleneck during rush hour. To create a second path to the Harbor Point peninsula, the city wants to upgrade Central Avenue and build a four-lane bridge over the canal that separates Harbor East from Harbor Point.

Repaving, new sidewalks and curb cuts and lighting the 10 blocks from Baltimore Street to Lancaster Street is estimated to cost $25 million. The bridge has a price tag of about $6 million, which would be covered by federal funds and the city's tax increment financing, which borrows against future property taxes, Kendrick said.

"There's no city cash in the project," Kendrick said.

Mary Alexander, a member of the transportation board's citizen advisory council and a Southeast Baltimore resident, criticized city officials for promoting commercial development projects while closing firehouses and recreation centers. She said officials had not reached out to residents of the Perkins Homes public housing development to explain how Harbor Point would affect them.

"If they found money to woo Exelon, I have no problem with that," Alexander said. "What are you doing for the people in my neighborhood?"

Kendrick said Harbor East Development must clear several regulatory hurdles before the project can break ground, which offer residents opportunities to express concerns. But he said the construction timetable is tight if the Exelon building is to open in fall 2014.

"The city's risk is minimal at this point," he said. "But we have to be ready to move as soon as approvals are done."

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