Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

July 02, 2005

Finding funding for communities all over the city

In The Sun's article "Clergy urge fight against convention hotel" (June 27), the city's commitment to non-downtown neighborhoods was brought into question.

Specifically, I was personally attacked by Bishop Douglas I. Miles of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), who publicly accused me of reneging on a promise.

However, I have not only fulfilled my promise but, working with the City Council and the mayor and his administration, have surpassed it.

I ask all city residents, especially those working with BUILD, to look beyond the rhetoric and check the facts.

In fiscal 2001, 81 percent of the city's entire capital program, or $205 million, went to neighborhoods and citywide initiatives. In 2002, that figure was 88.5 percent; in 2003, 91.9 percent; in 2004, 94.3 percent and in fiscal 2005, 94.6 percent. For fiscal 2006, 97.5 percent of the capital budget, or more than $411 million, will not go downtown but to other neighborhoods of Baltimore.

We are undertaking major redevelopment activity in our non-downtown neighborhoods:

In East Baltimore, the East Baltimore Development initiative includes a $21 million Section 108 loan to construct 1,500 mixed-income housing units on the east side.

In West Baltimore, Heritage Crossing, a $61 million mixed-income housing project, was jump-started by $41 million in public investment.

We are supporting affordable housing projects. The Sandtown Homeownership Zone, for instance, is a $31 million project that was jump-started by $17 million in public investment.

The city also did acquisition and relocation in Sandtown. For Harlem Gardens, a 96-unit affordable senior housing project, the city did acquisition and relocation and helped secure more than $800,000 in public funds.

And the city did acquisition and relocation for Edmondson Commons, a 74-unit affordable senior housing project, and helped secure over $900,000 in public funds.

We are facilitating neighborhood revitalization by reclaiming vacant properties and returning them to productive use.

In Sandtown, we acquired 525 properties worth more than $7 million; in Harlem Park, 312 properties worth more than $1.4 million; in Upton, 353 properties worth more than $1.4 million.

Since 2001, we have been providing operating support to on-the-ground nonprofit organizations.

In Sandtown, more than $1.7 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds have gone to Community Building in Partnership and the Sandtown Community Development Corp. for community organizing, housing counseling and support services.

In Harlem Park, more than $800,000 in CDBG funds have gone to Harlem Park Revitalization Corp. to support housing development.

In the Upton neighborhood, $75,000 in CDBG funds are funding a community plan, which is serving as the basis for our acquisition and disposition activity.

Finally, in the Oliver neighborhood, $300,000 in CDBG funds have gone to the Oliver Community Association.

Certainly there is much more to be done in our neighborhoods, but we have come a long way. And it is immoral and inaccurate to say we are more committed to downtown than to the rest of Baltimore.

Property values are rising throughout the city, not just downtown. And the success of various community-based planning and development initiatives throughout the city proves that investing in our neighborhoods is paying off.

Sheila Dixon

Baltimore

The writer is president of Baltimore's City Council.

Investing in hotel carries big risks

I read with dismay The Sun's endorsement of the Baltimore Development Corp's plan for the taxpayers of Baltimore to get into the hotel business ("Risk vs. reward," editorial, June 24).

Why should the city invest so much money into the convention industry, which has downsized drastically in the last four years and whose largest economic benefit is to provide jobs that offer low wages and no benefits?

Building this hotel would represent lost opportunities to invest in other more lucrative industries that offer fewer risks to taxpayers and better-paying jobs to citizens.

Other cities in the United States and Canada are competing for the same convention dollars that we would need to pay off the high price of building this hotel.

Those cities will keep undercutting each other (and Baltimore) - much like sweatshops in Third World nations undercut each other to scramble for the last Wal-Mart dollar.

I understand that there is a potential payoff to this investment, but the risk is too high.

We are risking our city's future revenue - and, judging from the state of our roads and schools, those revenues are not large enough as it is.

We are risking our bond rating. We are risking our ability to lure industries that offer citizens better jobs, and we are crossing a line that should not be crossed in a democracy.

We deserve better and should expect more from our city government.

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