Baltimore must stop thinking 'big,' start thinking differently [Letter]

December 12, 2013

Timothy D. Armbruster argues that Baltimore suffers from "three tyrannies" that prevent the city from reaching its full potential ("Baltimore's three tyrannies," Dec. 9). In his opinion, the three ultimately boil down to not thinking ambitiously enough about its future.

He knows the city extremely well and has been at the heart of so many of its improvements while leading the Goldseker Foundation for 34 years, which is why I find his assessment so troubling. It is a matter of public record that some of the city's grandest projects are its biggest failures, siphoning vital tax revenue away from core city services and limiting the opportunity for reforms with a real potential to attract new residents and jobs, like lowering the city's sky-high property tax rate. The $300 million publicly-financed Hilton Hotel, for example, which opened in 2008, has lost over $50 million so far. The Baltimore Grand Prix, which Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake dubbed a "game-changer," folded after three years without any indication it reshaped the city's image to the world and with significant loss of revenue to many downtown businesses. Likewise, handing out huge tax breaks to the same handful of developers throughout the last decade has produced the smallest of results, as the population continues to stagnate and unemployment to hover around 10 percent, three percentage points higher than the state.

If the city is to flourish, it needs new ideas and ideological competitiveness — not more big projects that benefit a small circle of politicians and their backers. The grand experiments in both public and private school choice benefiting thousands of low-income children around the nation have largely bypassed Baltimore — and Maryland — because of some of the most restrictive charter school laws in the country and fierce opposition to change from backers of the status quo.

Former Mayor Kurt Schmoke was eviscerated for even bringing the issue up. But those are the types of debates we need to have if we want every person in Baltimore to thrive and not just the ruling class.

Marta H. Mossburg, Timonium

The writer is a visiting fellow with the Maryland Public Policy Institute.

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