Officials OK money for federal zone

April 20, 1995|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Amid some sharp divisions over how to spend parts of $100 million in federal revitalization funds, Baltimore's empowerment zone officials yesterday approved millions of dollars for business development, housing and job training programs.

Programs budgeted at $34 million included $10 million in items approved by the board's executive committee earlier this month and several new ones. Among the additions are money to develop a master plan for a proposed ecological-industrial park in Fairfield, to beef up community policing and to pay for literacy and on-the-job training programs for zone residents.

Some of the money approved yesterday is expected to fund programs for up to five years. Before the money is disbursed, the programs must be reviewed by a federal task force overseeing the empowerment zone in Baltimore and five other cities.

Chairman Mathias J. DeVito stressed that the board could make adjustments.

With the exception of $4 million to fund as many as eight neighborhood centers, Mr. DeVito said, "All the money we've talked about is subject to change."

Also yesterday, Diane Bell, a special assistant to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, was named a "senior executive" of EMPOWER BALTIMORE!, overseeing social service programs funded by the quasi-public corporation.

The appointment of Ms. Bell, 43, fueled speculation that C. Edward Hitchcock, president of the corporation, was on his way out. However, Mr. DeVito and Mr. Hitchcock said Mr. Hitchcock would continue to be the corporation's chief executive.

"So far as I know today, Ed Hitchcock will be here for the foreseeable future," Mr. DeVito said.

Baltimore's empowerment zone covers dilapidated areas in East, West and South Baltimore. Besides $100 million in federal grants, the designation brings with it a range of tax credits for businesses.

The divisions over how to spend the money surfaced at the beginning and end of the six-hour board meeting.

Board members split sharply over a committee recommendation that funding in the initial application for a center to help existing businesses be increased by $2 million, with money to encourage small entrepreneurs to be reduced by a similar amount.

Some members argued that more jobs would be created and retained by helping existing stores and factories expand or remain open.

"We want to make those businesses already located in the zone a high priority," said Decatur H. Miller.

But others -- including many who live in the zone -- countered that residents needed a chance to be business owners, not just workers.

"This is saying you don't really care about the community," said Karen Carter, head of a southwest community group.

In the end, the board agreed to ask the federal government for $4.2 million to aid existing businesses and encourage entrepreneurship -- and decide later how to divide the money.

Hours later, after the board had approved all of the items on voice vote, board member Mark Sissman complained that most of the programs approved were not innovative enough.

"We really have to challenge ourselves" to come up with creative ideas, said Mr. Sissman, president of the Enterprise Social Investment Corp.

But Mr. DeVito said it was important to begin receiving money for programs.

"I'm not easily frustrated," he said. "But it's kind of frustrating to be trying to move a process forward and talk about some abstraction of new ideas."

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