Schmoke sets sights on bid for federal aid

January 25, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that Baltimore is mounting an aggressive campaign to be named one of nine federal empowerment zones, a designation that would bring $100 million in new federal grants as well as tax credits and other benefits for employers.

"We're going after this like a military-style operation," Mr. Schmoke told business leaders during a breakfast meeting of the Downtown Partnership at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The Downtown Partnership is a private business group that promotes downtown Baltimore.

Mr. Schmoke said he has appointed a city employee to work full time with several advisory committees to pull together the application for federal aid. The deadline for applying for the federal program is June 30, the mayor said.

Baltimore faces an uphill fight in the competition because the city doesn't fit the specifications for five of the nine zones. Three zones must go to rural areas, one is targeted for a city with a population under 500,000, and one must go to a city whose borders touch two states.

Many political leaders, including Mr. Schmoke, presume that three of the remaining four zones will go to the nation's most populous cities, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Despite the stiff competition, the mayor is optimistic that Baltimore can win the remaining empowerment zone designation. The city's supporters say Baltimore might edge out the competition because of its nationally acclaimed effort to rebuild Sandtown-Winchester and Mr. Schmoke's ties to President Clinton.

If Baltimore falls short of empowerment zone status, it is likely to be among 95 enterprise communities to be named across the country. Enterprise communities will receive priority for funding from a host of existing federal programs but will not receive the $100 million grants available to an empowerment zone.

Daniel P. Henson III, the city's housing commissioner, said after the mayor's speech that winning empowerment zone status would be a coup for Baltimore. The city's application is being drafted by the agency Mr. Henson runs.

Mr. Schmoke's speech was billed as an economic "state of the city" talk by the Downtown Partnership.

In his talk, Mr. Schmoke called on businesses in the city to do more to employ Baltimoreans in good jobs. "We have to increase employment opportunities for people who are residents of the city," he said. "In jobs paying $25,000 to $35,000 and above, overwhelmingly, residents of the city continue to be shut out."

Overall, Mr. Schmoke said, the city's economy remains bleak, although there are a few bright signs. For the coming year, he said, city revenues are expected to inch up less than 1 percent.

The prospect of increased revenue is good news because the city treasury has suffered from cuts in state aid and stagnant tax revenues in recent years.

The mayor also said that the city might get professional football this year, although it is likely to come in the form of a Canadian Football League team.

"The prospects for a NFL team are not as bright as they were last week [before Baltimore investors lost out in a bid to buy the New England Patriots]," Mr. Schmoke said.

"I'm ready to start promoting the CFL," he added.

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