Corporate Welfare

The Biotech Park That Never Was


The year before I moved to Baltimore, the city embarked on a vast urban renewal scheme. A decade into the effort, the Maryland Daily Record takes a look at how the project is progressing:

The nation's largest urban redevelopment, a projected $1.8 billion effort to transform 88 acres of East Baltimore into a world-class biotech park and idyllic urban community, lies derailed amid vacant lots, boarded houses and unfulfilled dreams a decade after it began….

Meanwhile, an African-American community known as Middle East has been virtually eliminated and its more than 600 residents relocated to make room for the development known as The New East Baltimore….

About $564 million has already been committed to the project, which is spearheaded by the nonprofit East Baltimore Development Inc. The public share of that amount is $212.6 million, more than a third of which is from loans that will take three decades for the city to pay off with diverted property taxes.

But the dream of a biotech park has been abandoned, putting the promise of thousands of new jobs in limbo. Public and private sector leaders are scrambling for a new focus for the project, saying it's too big to fail.

The story doubles as a tour through some of the most common ways local governments screw their citizens, from eminent domain to TIFs to public-private partnerships. And then, of course, there's good old fashioned neglect:

The Daily Record's investigation found that The New East Baltimore's public funding is so complex and poorly scrutinized that local elected officials, some of whom serve on EBDI's board, said they had little grasp of the $108.5 million in city funds committed to the project at a time of tax increases, and furloughs and pay cuts for city workers, including firefighters and police.

[Sheila] Dixon told The Daily Record that she did not know the city sold $78 million in bonds to support the project when she was mayor.

For video interviews with the area's angry residents, go here.