Point man on harbor development confronts controversy

Michael Beatty faces critics but wins over City Hall to build Harbor Point

  • Michael S. Beatty, president of Beatty Development Group, LLC, walks at Harbor Point, the area he is developing as the future headquarters for Exelon and a mixed use site.
Michael S. Beatty, president of Beatty Development Group,… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
September 07, 2013|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

When developer Michael Beatty comes home from a hard day of reshaping the city's skyline, first with Harbor East and now with its neighbor, Harbor Point, he relaxes by cooking.

"I love seeing projects through, but they take so long to get done," Beatty said. "So I cook, and I have results in an hour."

Not always good results, though, as Beatty learned the night he decided to make baguettes. They came out of the oven golden and fragrant — but also heavy and inedible as bricks, he remembers telling John Paterakis, his partner at the time at H&S Properties Development.

Paterakis, who knows a bit about bread as head of H&S Bakery, diagnosed the problem: Beatty hadn't given the dough time to rise.

For bread or buildings, it seems, patience comes in handy. After a particularly contentious series of hearings, the City Council is expected on Monday evening to grant Beatty $107 million in public financing for Harbor Point, the capped hazardous-waste site envisioned as home to a new office tower for the energy giant Exelon as well as housing, shops and parks.

In a city of persistent poverty and a crumbling infrastructure, that a total of about $400 million in tax breaks and other assistance is flowing to another gilded waterfront development has sparked outcry in some quarters — much of it directed at Beatty.

The 47-year-old developer maintained an unflappable demeanor, at least in public, even as protesters marched on City Hall wearing mock baseball uniforms of the "Tax Dodgers" team or bearing derisive sentiments on their chests, such as: "Michael Beatty got an $88 million tax break. All we got is this damn T-shirt."

His equanimity may stem from the fact that the sound and fury isn't likely to change anything.

The strong support he enjoys at City Hall virtually assures that Beatty will walk away Monday evening with the Tax Increment Financing, or TIF — followed eventually by other public assistance, including that $88 million tax credit for building in an Enterprise Zone.

Despite being much in the news lately, Beatty is not widely known outside his own circles — to the point that his name is frequently mispronounced. (It's Beet-y, not Bate-y.)

The Long Island native moved to Baltimore in 1990 and three years later joined the spotlight-shunning Paterakis, becoming the public face of the bakery magnate's development of Harbor East — a collection of office towers such as Legg Mason, apartments, boutiques and fancy restaurants that sprang up in just past decade.

Late last year, Beatty split from Paterakis to start his own company to build Harbor Point, the 27-acre site that is Baltimore's last undeveloped swath of land fronting the Inner Harbor.

'I like privacy'

He is decidedly more comfortable talking about his business than himself. A conversation with Beatty can feel like a presentation; a walk through the lively Harbor East and barren Harbor Point is something like a PowerPoint in three dimensions.

"I'm pretty simple. I like food. I like my family," Beatty says. "I like privacy."

He is the son of an architect, the husband of his college-sweetheart wife, Nathalie, whom he still calls "my bride," and the father of three teenage sons whom he declines to name, to protect them from publicity. His family recently took a motor home to drive their oldest son to his second year at Kenyon College, which filled Beatty with what he wincingly describes as "such a pain of sorrow."

His friend and frequent collaborator on development projects, C. William "Bill" Struever, says one of the things he admires most about Beatty is that "he's a rock-solid family guy."

"I'm somewhat jealous of that," Struever said. "He's done a terrific job balancing his life."

Beatty isn't much of a civic joiner, but he has served on the boards of his sons' schools — the School for the Arts and Gilman — as well as those of Maryland Institute College of Art and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Much of his time goes to his business, from lining up financing to recruiting tenants to what he calls the "City Council headaches" of getting the TIF bonds approved for the $1.8 billion Harbor Point project. The city will float bonds to pay for infrastructure and other improvements at the site, and future property taxes generated by the development will be used to pay off the bonds. The bonds will also pay for public parks and a $2 million contribution to the Crossroads charter school.

Beatty plans to buy the first round of TIF bonds himself, expected to be about $35 million.

Beatty has met with opponents who decry what they see as a giveaway of public funds to little public benefit, particularly to impoverished eastside areas that stand in stark contrast to their glittery new neighbor.

"We did a little more listening. I was never a good listener," Beatty said. "They scream and yell, but sit down with them, they're a lot nicer."

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