City to reimburse Hopkins for failed plan

April 25, 2002|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

As the city embarks on an ambitious east-side redevelopment plan, the O'Malley administration has agreed to reimburse the Johns Hopkins University $2.4 million that it spent largely in the late 1990s on the last, failed effort to address urban blight in East Baltimore.

The agreement calls for the city to pay Hopkins largely with federal dollars as well as more than $600,000 directly from city coffers. The Board of Estimates gave the preliminary approval yesterday to a $610,000 payment of city funds when it approved next fiscal year's budget plan. The budget goes to the City Council.

The repayment agreement comes as the city moves forward with Hopkins on a biotechnology park north of the Johns Hopkins medical complex. Mayor Martin O'Malley and a university spokesman said yesterday that Hopkins' participation in the biotech park project did not depend on paying the university the $2.4 million.

"We never talked about it directly," O'Malley said in an interview. "There's not a quid pro quo in terms of the Hopkins agreement."

City officials say they had been working on the repayment issue for a long time. Still, at a time when the university was planning to invest in a major new revitalization effort, Hopkins said that it wanted to resolve the outstanding debt.

"The timing is partly coincidental and more a function of workload," said William F. Merritt, a housing official involved in the repayment negotiations. "But they clearly said, `Well you know we're starting to engage in this big process and this is a kind of nagging annoyance out there.' And we both wanted to be done with it."

O'Malley said Hopkins had spent the $2.4 million on east-side projects with the understanding that it would be reimbursed from a pool of federal dollars the city borrowed for revitalization of the area.

The $34.1 million federal loan, secured in 1996, was to be used for a much-publicized east-side revitalization. In five years, the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, a nonprofit group, spent slightly less than half the money to rehab a few dozen individual rowhouses and for some commercial redevelopment, prompting concerns about how effectively the money was being used.

The city froze further spending of the money while it developed a bolder revitalization plan centered on a biotech park and hundreds of units of new and rehabilitated housing.

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