Baltimore making first selections on how to spend that $100 million

April 05, 1995|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Acting for the first time to use $100 million in federal funds, Baltimore's empowerment zone officials yesterday gave preliminary OK to programs to create jobs, to help residents find work and to offer students an alternative to underperforming schools.

The executive committee of the board overseeing the city's federally funded urban revitalization effort approved funds to set up a center to counsel existing businesses and attract new ones and to aid home-based businesses and help transport zone residents to jobs.

It also approved money for a network of community centers that would provide access to jobs and job-training programs; encourage the construction of middle-class rental housing and establish a special high school program.

In all, the committee approved spending $11 million over five years -- a little more than one-tenth of the funds available.

The projects approved yesterday are among those considered by members to have the highest priority for funding.

Other items among the myriad social and job-creation programs outlined in the city's empowerment zone application need additional discussion, members said.

"It's important to get money," said board Chairman Mathias J. DeVito. "We've got to go forward."

The projects approved yesterday still require the consent of the full board and must be reviewed by a federal task force overseeing the empowerment zone in Baltimore and five other cities.

Once approved, they can be aborted at any time if the empowerment zone board feels they are not achieving the desired results.

The money for the projects, to be drawn from a federal account containing the first $50 million of the federal funds, will not be paid in a lump sum but will be disbursed in increments, based on a schedule of payments.

Yesterday's executive committee action represents the first .

move by Baltimore to use the federal grant money since December when the city was awarded the coveted empowerment zone designation. The award, which includes tax credits for businesses operating in the zone, is to revitalize dilapidated areas in East, West and South Baltimore.

In the past three months, there has been a smattering of activity in the empowerment zone. But it has involved businesses taking advantage of the federal tax credits in the zone by expanding or relocating, or government and nonprofit groups setting up community-based initiatives without any empowerment zone money.

The largest single item approved yesterday was $4 million over five years for funding of up to eight "village centers" -- conceived of as links between communities and the empowerment zone board and centers of computerized job listings and training opportunities. A zonewide meeting is scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. at Coppin State College to explain how community representatives can form a village center.

One project approved yesterday was not in the city's original application. That is for a voluntary "Leadership Academy" for zone youths to be located in Lake Clifton High School.

The empowerment zone would contribute one-third of the three-year, $3 million cost of the academy, the idea of schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey. It would be based on the character-building program of the Bath, Maine-based, Hyde School.

A year ago, Dr. Amprey abandoned plans to turn over troubled Patterson High to the Hyde School because of budget constraints and widespread opposition from students and parents to the school's emphasis on discipline and values as well as academics.

Some board members said there was a need to examine some of the basic financial assumptions of the city's original application.

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, pointed out that the plan called for spending $24 million on health and family development initiatives, which he noted "were not directly related to job creation."

He suggested that some of that money might be better spent on loans to businesses.

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