Board OKs downtown parking garage

Advocacy group, Garey criticize panel's decision

November 08, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The city Board of Estimates approved yesterday building a 13-story parking garage downtown amid criticism that the structure will benefit a company accused of predatory lending and do little to ease public parking concerns.

The board voted to spend $12.5 million in parking revenue bond funds and $3 million in state money to build the garage at 210 St. Paul Place.

The city will own and operate the garage after it is completed late next year.

The approval was criticized yesterday by advocates for the poor and City Councilwoman Lois A. Garey, a Southeast Baltimore Democrat whose 1st District includes the garage site.

Spaces to CitiFinancial

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) charges that the city is rewarding CitiFinancial, a company accused of profiting off the poor.

More than half of the garage's 519 planned parking spaces have been offered to CitiFinancial by the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development arm, as an incentive for the company to expand downtown.

"We strongly object to this being passed ... until substantial, verifiable gains are made in the behavior of this company," ACORN campaign coordinator Glenn Scott told the board.

Councilwoman's objections

Garey's objection was for a different reason. She said so many parking spaces were being promised to CitiFinancial and other possible businesses that the garage would not help the public parking problem in the city.

"Every time we see one of these, monthly parkers fill it up," Garey said. "Come downtown for jury duty and see if you can find a place to park."

The CitiFinancial deal has been discussed for months.

On Monday, after intense lobbying by Mayor Martin O'Malley, the City Council gave preliminary approval to spending the state funds for the garage, a vote that came after long negotiations between the company and Council President Sheila Dixon.

Dixon received assurances last week that the company would curtail some of its practices and provide low-interest loans for low-income families.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating CitiFinancial's practices.

In May, a former employee alleged that she was pressured to sell unnecessary insurance policies to the elderly and minorities, according to company officials and published reports.

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