No way to fight

June 30, 2005

MONDAY'S CITY Council hearing on public financing for a $305 million convention center hotel in Baltimore degenerated into an embarrassing and counterproductive display. Exchanges between the Rev. Douglas I. Miles of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) and council President Sheila Dixon, as reported by The Sun's Jill Rosen, amounted to verbal fisticuffs. Shouts and yelling, microphones cut off, voices raised in defiance - so much for civil discourse.

BUILD's anger about public investment in a downtown hotel is understandable, but misplaced. Neighborhoods served by BUILD churches may indeed be marred by blight and in desperate need of revitalization, but city financing of a revenue-generating hotel can't be equated with public funding for a housing development. Parking lots and hotels can be built with revenue bonds, but housing complexes generally require a different financing vehicle such as community development bonds. To suggest, as BUILD does, that city revenue bonds could be redirected to develop more housing, eradicate blight or reinforce police presence is misleading.

Revenue bonds require an identifiable source to pay off the bonds, such as parking fees or hotel receipts and taxes. Community development bonds, on the other hand, often are used to raze vacant houses, help homeowners repair properties, generate affordable housing and stabilize city neighborhoods. This year alone, voters approved $33.5 million in such loans, which the city repays out of general funds.

BUILD's pastors may have a beef with council President Dixon over a purported campaign pledge to seek public financing for a preferred project, but attacking her publicly won't advance their cause. Ms. Dixon countered BUILD's accusations of neighborhood neglect with a list of community projects that received public aid, including a $31 million homeownership project in Sandtown, a mixed-income residential development in West Baltimore known as Heritage Crossing and the Harlem Gardens senior citizens housing development.

The public has every right to voice its opinion on the convention center hotel project, and taxpayers should participate in its review. But simply shouting, "We oppose! We oppose!" is neither compelling nor convincing.

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