Hoping for a $100 million windfall

February 25, 1994

Baltimore City has launched an all-out effort to get one of the Clinton administration's coveted empowerment zone designations. A total of nine such zones will be selected within the next year: three will be in rural areas, one in a city with a population under 500,000 people and the rest presumably in the major cities.

Intense lobbying by a number of cities and states interested in reaping the benefits surrounded the drafting of the program legislation as well as the detailed guidelines. As a result, it is presumed that all except one of the urban empowerment zones have effectively been spoken for. That leaves several major cities to fight over very little.

Whatever happens in the decision making in Washington, the Schmoke administration has decided to spare no effort in coming up with an empowerment zone proposal that could not be turned down on merit.

Inside the cavernous -- and largely empty -- Brokerage building, a staff of 11 full-time and seven part-time employees seconded from various city agencies are helping Baltimore Development Corp. Vice President Michael Seipp to draft the application. Hundreds of community activists will be involved in the effort; Maryland's congressional delegation is expected to do its share by lobbying the Clinton administration.

Empowerment zone guidelines set strict guidelines for an area to be eligible. It must have "pervasive poverty, unemployment, economic distress, crime and drug use" -- criteria defined in a way that surprisingly few Baltimore City neighborhoods qualify. In the end, the Schmoke administration has come up with three pockets of poverty.

One is on the west side, stretching from the Mondawmin Mall area through Sandtown-Winchester to Pigtown and the Russell Street corridor. Another begins at Federal Street and then goes south to include the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex, a major private employer, and Fells Point. The third area is Fairfield, near Curtis Bay.

Some adjoining areas could have been added, but they would have required a federal waiver. And the city's determination was that the politics involving empowerment zone designations were tricky that nothing in its proposal should complicate Baltimore's chances.

Whether Baltimore gets the $100 million infusion of federal money for additional social spending is questionable. But the targeted planning and goal-setting involved in preparing the proposal will benefit Baltimore, regardless of the outcome.

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