Critics of city subsidies for the $1 billion Harbor Point project clashed Wednesday with supporters of the waterfront development that the mayor has called a "once-in-a-generation opportunity."
About 100 demonstrators, some wearing baseball-style "Tax Dodgers" uniforms, picketed City Hall to protest what they said have been decades of development policies that have benefited the rich but done nothing for the poor.
A line of residents waiting to testify against the proposed $107 million in city financing stretched down the street.
"It's a bad deal." said Shantress Wise, 39. "No more failed development."
Inside, the proposal faced scrutiny from members of the City Council's taxation committee, whose approval is required to authorize the deal.
Committee members asked developer Michael S. Beatty and the Baltimore Development Corp. why the city should help to finance a series of small parks, costing about $60 million, and a $21 million promenade, when other builders have paid for such projects themselves.
Councilman Bill Henry, vice chairman of the taxation committee, questioned why Baltimore needs yet another hotel.
"We own a hotel that's not going gangbusters," said Henry, referring to the city-owned Hilton Baltimore at Camden Yards.
The Harbor Point development is the planned home of Exelon Corp.'s new regional headquarters, a Morgan Stanley facility and other office buildings, residential towers, stores and a hotel. The committee will hold a work session on the project in August, Henry said.
Ronald Kreitner, longtime head of the nonprofit Westside Renaissance, handed out documents that he said showed the subsidies, which include public financing and more than $100 million in tax breaks, would cost the city more than $660 million in all, including $200 million in lost state revenue for schools.
Because Harbor Point will not pay property taxes for years, he said, and because the state allocates education dollars based on property values, children will lose out.
"It's one thing to take money from the taxpayers," Kreitner said. "It's one thing to construct the biggest raid on the public treasury in the history of Baltimore, but when you take money from schoolchildren ... that is a travesty."
Kreitner was the state's planning director from 1989 to 2000. Westside Renaissance, the nonprofit he heads, focuses on the central business district. The group's chairman is Peter G. Angelos, majority owner of the Orioles and a downtown property owner with a stake in protecting that district. Angelos and his associates were the largest contributors to the 2011 campaign of taxation committee Chairman Carl Stokes, a fierce opponent of the development.
Minority and construction contractors said the Harbor Point deal would provide badly needed jobs. The Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development arm, estimates the project would create 7,000 construction jobs and 3,300 permanent jobs when completed.
"We want to build the whole city, but we've got to start somewhere," said Pless B. Jones, president of P&J Contracting Co. "If you got jobs, you're going to have less drugs on the street."
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young says he will ensure that the deal moves on to the full council, even though Stokes, remains staunchly opposed.
Stokes, who called the 27-acre property between Harbor East and Fells Point an "iconic" site worthy of the Statue of Liberty or Eiffel Tower, has said he wants to see Beatty's books before signing off on the deal. The developers have denied that request.
As council president, Young could use a parliamentary maneuver to take the deal to the full council, even if it stalls in Stokes' committee.
"The bill will pass," Young said Wednesday morning. That evening, he promised the packed crowd at the hearing that the development would deliver "union jobs" to Baltimore residents. He said a "significant amount of minority contractors" would get jobs.