City to help bank pay costs of cleanup

$1.5 million approved by Board of Estimates

January 22, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Baltimore officials agreed to give Bank of America $1.5 million yesterday to help cover the cost of removing lead paint and asbestos from buildings the bank is renovating for an $85 million development on downtown's west side.

The Board of Estimates voted 4-1 to grant the bank's request for Centerpoint, a retail and residential project expected to help turn around a faded corner of the city.

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt objected on grounds that the cash-strapped city should not have to bail out the banking giant. City Council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake sat in for President Sheila Dixon.

In October 2001, the city agreed to sell Bank of America a square bock, which the city had spent $12.1 million acquiring.

The purchase price was $6 million. The city was willing to take the loss to encourage the development, which is expected to act as a stimulus for a depressed 20-block area. The city also agreed at that time to reduce the price - to be paid when the project is completed next year - to reflect demolition and environmental cleanup costs.

Cleanup was first estimated at $2 million, said Maria E. Miller, senior vice president of community development banking for Bank of America. But the price has reached $6.7 million, she said yesterday. The state has agreed to contribute $1.3 million toward cleanup and the bank expects to pay the city less than $1 million for the property, she said.

The cleanup estimate was off in part because property owners who fought the city's acquisition efforts did not allow inspectors on their property, said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp. He said the value of the properties would have been less had the extent of the contamination been known.

Pratt said the bank could afford to pay for cleanup itself and also objected to how the city opted to contribute. Instead of writing the bank a check now, as the board voted to do, the city could have subtracted the $1.5 million from the purchase price when the sale is completed, she said. That would have given the city use of that money for the next year, she said.

"Why should the city front them the money?" she asked.

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