City must protect port

Developers' moves to grab up waterfront property imperil powerful economic engine

March 08, 2009|By John Redding

For more than 300 years, the port of Baltimore has been an economic engine: creating jobs, building businesses, generating tax revenue and holding the promise of new opportunity. Day and night, the port hums with activity. It handles everything from cars and farm equipment to flat-screen TVs, computers and furniture - and keeps tens of thousands of local residents employed.

But the port is under attack, an assault launched not by competing ports in Philadelphia, New York or Charleston, S.C., but by developers who work and live in our backyard.

Developers are moving aggressively to seize precious waterfront property for new condominiums, high-priced restaurants, hotels and million-dollar homes. This property, which has been protected since 2004 by a city ordinance, is critical to port operations because it provides deep-water access for large ships that is not only scarce but vital to the creation of jobs and future expansion of the port.

The Maryland Port Administration, trucking companies, stevedores, longshoremen, shippers and others whose livelihood depends on the port are resolute that deep-water access must be preserved and protected. We are seeking a 10-year extension of the city ordinance that created a zoning district to ensure that deep-water property along the Baltimore harbor, in Locust Point, Canton, Dundalk and other areas, is protected from development. It is imperative that the City Council extend the Maritime Industrial Zoning Overlay District, or MIZOD, to 2024 from 2014, when it is set to expire.

In January, the Abell Foundation released a 90-page document written by John Hentschel of Hentschel Real Estate Services that offers a number of valuable suggestions regarding the port and its future. But it also calls for measures that would put a stranglehold on MIZOD by opening up deep-water property to development. We at the Baltimore Industrial Group see this as a shortsighted move that would damage the port and limit job creation.

The port is the city's industrial backbone, critical to our economic future. It has shouldered Baltimore's heavy lifting with its 49 marine terminals, 43 of which are based in Baltimore and seven of which are controlled by the state. The port represents 16,500 direct jobs, 33,700 indirect jobs, $3.6 billion in annual personal wages and salaries, $1.9 billion in annual business revenues and $388 million in annual state, county and municipal taxes. The port provides steady, blue-collar jobs that pay good wages, nearly $48,000 a year on average.

In 2007, the port handled a record 30.8 million tons of cargo, valued at $42 billion, at the seven public terminals overseen by the Maryland Port Administration. Nationwide, it is recognized as the leader in handling imported forest products, construction equipment, gypsum, iron ore, coal and sugar. It is the second-largest port in the country for handling exports of vehicles and heavy equipment.

It is easy to be swayed by developers' promises of glitzy, multimillion-dollar condominiums along the waterfront. But developers' dreams are often just that - dreams - and their grand projects are often victims of market cycles, as we clearly see today. The port has a proven record based not on suspect promises but on something much more tangible: 300 years of history and hard work. MIZOD must be extended for the port to continue to flourish.

John Redding is co-chairman of the Baltimore Industrial Group, an organization of large industrial companies. His e-mail is jrredding@

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