Sunday, November 13, 2011

The O's vs. The Mayor: Should Baltimore's Economic Development Focus on Building Offices or Filling Them?

An anonymous coward source tipped Maryland Juice off to an interesting debate going on in Baltimore City: should economic development efforts be geared toward encouraging new office construction or should they encourage tenants to rent already-built but vacant office space? The Baltimore Brew blog has a well-done piece summarizing the loud debate between Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and newly-elected Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake:
The general public knows little about PILOTs, TIFs and other obscure financing tools, but they are a source of controversy and turf battling within the city’s power elite.

And at the top of that elite stands lawyer and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, a man who isn’t afraid to confront what he considers “handouts” to developers by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Angelos and Rawlings-Blake have been feuding over various city developments for some time. The lawyer, who owns One Charles Center and other downtown properties, has tried to block, through lawsuits he’s funded, the State Center and “Superblock” projects championed by the mayor.

While the lawsuits center on various procedural issues, the thrust of his opposition is this – why is the city doling out tax breaks to new developments when about 25% of downtown’s office space (including some of Angelos’ own properties) lie vacant?
The Brew article above is related to similar tensions we are hearing about around the country, as policymakers attempt to influence the basic laws of supply and demand. TIME Magazine, for example, highlighted the new and increasing phenomenon of banks and cities bulldozing housing to lower the supply:

Granted, in Baltimore the development projects in question are likely not simply 100 % residential  or 100% office projects, and are therefore probably more likely to be mixed-use with amenities. But still, the debate is intriguing.

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