Moving west side forward Baltimore's ambitious...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

April 07, 2001

Moving west side forward

Baltimore's ambitious west-side development project is moving forward in an expeditious, market-based and even-handed manner.

The $16 million public investment we are making to acquire the Stewart's and CenterPoint sites will leverage $77 million in private investment, creating 588 jobs and 370 apartments. After the project's completion, this investment will bring at least $837,000 in new taxes, every year, to city coffers.

These projects are also creating the critical mass that makes possible the $56 million Hippodrome Theater and the $12 million Hecht Co. project. These investments are already attracting numerous other projects that will be financed primarily by private dollars.

The Sun's editorial "Gullible mayor wastes city money" (March 30) failed to mention this unprecedented private investment. Instead, The Sun chose, once again, to recklessly throw around unsubstantiated allegations of criminal misconduct in attacking the policy decision to fairly compensate business owners when urban renewal puts them out of business.

Paying storeowners a reasonable sum -- one that exceeds the $20,000 minimum provided in the 30-year-old federal relocation law The Sun cites, is a decision I made and stand by. I do not think government should take away people's livelihoods, then callously say "too bad" when merchants ask how they will pick up the pieces of their lives.

I think most Baltimore taxpayers would agree that $20,000 is not fair compensation for shuttering a business that took 15 to 20 years to build. Just because you can get away with something doesn't make it the right thing to do.

Every step in our compensation process has complied with federal law and was done in consultation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

In questioning three of 61 deals, the editorial raised some fair points. For example, I agree city government was foolish to negotiate a $160,000 settlement with a storeowner who moved three doors down. But the editorial is wrong on the larger purpose that guided this process -- justly compensating honest business owners.

The Sun's editorial and news coverage placed the west-side effort in the context of the city's budget deficit, misleading readers by implying that dollars used to compensate merchants could be used to fund other city services. As The Sun knows, the funds used for relocation come from economic development bonds, which cannot be used to fund other operations.

That said, I acknowledge this process has not been perfect, and we will tighten our rules and fine-tune our guidelines to close any loopholes that might have been exploited in a couple instances.

It is a challenge to redevelop an urban neighborhood, incorporating existing buildings and fairly dealing with scores of mom-and-pop stores. But big success requires bold action.

The west-side project will bring $350 million of private investment to our city, revitalizing our historic shopping district as a 24-hour neighborhood. It will continue to move forward on an expedited basis -- reversing decades of decline.

Martin O'Malley, Baltimore

The writer is mayor of Baltimore.

AIDS drugs must reach world's poor

Generic AIDS drugs sold in violation of patent laws without local regulatory approval are not the only option for poor countries ("Battle over AIDS moves to court," editorial, March 7). Several drug countries have recently offered to sell their patented drugs at affordable prices.

African governments, private clinics and employers can purchase Videx and Zerit from Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cirxvin from Merck, or Conbivir from Glaxo at $350 to $730 per patient per year. These prices are less than or comparable to the price of the generic versions.

Those administering drugs to HIV-positive patients should lose no time in holding these companies to their offers.

Poor countries dealing with the HIV-AIDS crisis who are members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) can also justify denying patent protection in their countries under the WTOs Intellectual Property Rights agreement or by suspending enforcement of patents in their countries as an exception allowed under the WTO Agreement when "necessary to protect human life."

Life-sustaining drug treatments must be made available to people suffering from HIV infection. Voluntary action by the drug companies to distribute them in poor countries at affordable prices is the preferable solution.

But failing such action, WTO agreements support denying patent protection and enforcement so governments can distribute these drugs to save lives.

The HIV-AIDS drugs available do not cure the virus or the disease. They only stall or slow the process of the virus.

Thus long-term treatment of HIV-infected populations in poor countries is required. Funding for this will have to come from developed countries.

Research must also continue to find a cure or a vaccine for AIDS. Funding that research is the obligation of the drug companies and the developed nations.

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