Brown’s Baltimore Boondoggle

The botched roll out of the Maryland’s Obamacare website isn’t the only colossal mistake made on Lt. Governor Anthony Brown’s watch, with a similar pattern of financial mismanagement, lax oversight, and failed outcomes. I direct your attention to the vast swaths of vacant land in East Baltimore surrounding The Johns Hopkins Medical Campus.

Anthony Brown sits on the Board of Directors of the East Baltimore Development Inc, a spot to which he was appointed to the Board by Martin O’Malley in 2007. In the press release announcing the appointmentO’Malley said Brown would “a key leader as we work with all partners to develop and expand this key region of our state.”

East Baltimore Development Inc. is “a 501 [c] [3] established by community, government, institutional and philanthropic partners to revitalize, re-energize and rebuild the East Baltimore.” 

Four-years later, the “New” East Baltimore was in shambles.

A 5-month investigation in 2011 by The Daily Record found the project was derailed by inconsistent leadership, lax oversight and accountability, and detached politicians.” The project wasted $212 million in public funds, displaced 700 families, and the biotech-park was scrapped and replaced with plan to redevelop the area around a school. While the individual articles from The Daily Record are behind a paywall, a third-party reprint of the story has the full damning story about the muddled money trail and the fact that nobody was being responsible with the taxpayers money.

A Daily Record editorial blasted the project and it’s oversight:

The New East Baltimore, a projected $1.8 billion effort to transform 88 blighted acres north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, is a mammoth undertaking with more than $200 million worth of public investment after a decade and precious little public oversight.  

That lack of accountability is a fundamental flaw that must be rectified now….

This is no way to run a railroad, much less the nation’s largest urban redevelopment project.The stakes for the city and state are far too high to keep operating in this manner. If this project is to succeed — and we hope it does — it needs nothing less than the full attention of the public, private and nonprofit sectors to assure the coordination of resources and planning and a fully transparent process to accurately calculate the impact of these decisions in human and financial costs. 

As Douglas W. Nelson, chairman of the EBDI board and former CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which has pumped millions of dollars into the project, said, “If in time we can’t make that community resemble the vision we had for families and kids and workers there, the city is in trouble.”

That doesn’t mean that Anthony Brown hasn’t tried to capitalize politically on the EBDI project. In 2007 at EBDI’s 5th Anniversary, Brown gave a speech touting jobs and constructions that never happened.   

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“Look at what we’ve accomplished. $1.8 BILLION – with a ‘B’ – of redevelopment across 88 acres; Job training and workforce development programs that will create 8,000 new job opportunities in the City; 2,200 residential homes; A state-of-the-art Life Science and Technology Park; Nearly 150,000 square feet of new commercial office and retail space; And, just yesterday, EBDI was recognized by U.S. Green Building Council for it’s LEED-standards in green construction and design. “ 

Between 2012-2014 the state of Maryland has sunk $9.1 million in EBDI.
After the mistakes that were made, the O’Malley-Brown Administration worked to try to put the pieces back together. Governor O’Malley christened a new state public health lab at EBDI that was put into place after these failures.  But what the Sun left out of the story is why the lab is there and how something unusual is happening with the funding. The lab itself is non-profit, however it is in fact paying to be part of this EBDI project, as reported by The Daily Record in 2011:

Extra precautions With that in mind, EBDI and the city are taking extra precautions they hope will keep Baltimore’s TIF debt repayment record intact. At the behest of city financial advisors, two recent additions to The New East Baltimore development plan – a $60 million graduate student housing tower owned by the Johns Hopkins University and a $175 million state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene lab – will be required to make unusual payments in lieu of taxes to make sure each tax-exempt building contributes to the TIF repayments. “We need to hold fast” to the responsibility to bond investors, said Christopher Shea, EBDI’s CEO. “In order to welcome a tax-exempt building to the project,” he said, TIF repayments still must be made. Hopkins will be responsible for a $400,000 annual payment in lieu of taxes, said Cynthia Swisher, EBDI’s chief financial officer. The annual amount of the state lab’s payment in lieu of taxes has yet to be determined.

Emphasis mine.

The economic record isn’t the only issue with EBDI. In 2012 the Sun reported on concerns by the Legislative Delegation from the area that the EBDI project wasn’t helping the displaced residents of the area find new homes or with job and other economic opportunities. 

Elected officials from East Baltimore want to block the $1.8 billion urban renewal project in Middle East until more neighborhood residents and minority contractors are hired and displaced residents can benefit from the revitalization. 

Members of the Eastside Leadership Team criticized the 88-acre project for what they said was slow progress and a poor record of minority hiring during a news conference Wednesday outside the offices of East Baltimore Development Inc, the nonprofit leading the large-scale redevelopment just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital. 

The group of state senators, delegates, City Council members and former officials said they intend to halt agreements and block legislation, permits and zoning changes needed to advance the plans. They also intend to sign on as plaintiffs in an existing lawsuit against state agencies to stop a $99 million state health laboratory that’s under construction on the site.

“We’re giving EBDI a vote of no confidence,” and calling for a stop to new construction, contracts or hiring, “until our goals are met,” state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden said. 

The project displaced 800 families from what was a blighted neighborhood. Some moved to newly rehabbed rowhouses nearby. 

Hundreds of houses were razed to make way for 1,500 to 2,000 new and renovated residential units and up to 1.7 million square feet of commercial space. One office building and several apartment buildings have been completed…. 

….But over 10 years the work, for which EBDI has partnered with Johns Hopkins and master developer Forest City East Baltimore Partnership, has yet to deliver promised new housing and jobs, critics said.

Online journal Next City, in noting the divide between the State-backed corporation and the displaced local residents, said:

Nearly all of Middle East’s residents had been removed and more than half a billiondollars in public and private money had been poured into the project. However, 700 abandoned homes still stood and plans for the 1.1 million-square-foot biotech park, which EBDI promised would produce nearly 7,000 permanent jobs and resuscitate the neighborhood, appeared stuck. A 30-acre rectangle consisting of a lone biotech building, a couple of hundred rental units for seniors, a handful of condos, an unfinished graduate student housing facility and an incomplete parking garage were all EBDI had to show.

So to recap, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown has been put in charge by Governor O’Malley of both the rollout for the Maryland Health Care Exchange website as well as East Baltimore Development, Inc. In both cases, these massive state projects have suffered from wasteful spending, a lack of transparency, a lack of fiscal accountability and the inability to complete the task at hand on time and within budget. All at the expense of local, minority residents who have been displaced from their jobs and shut out from the economic development taking place in their own backyard.

Maryland is already facing tough fiscal times, including a structural deficit created by the O’Malley-Brown Administration’s wasteful spending, and a projected $400 million revenue shortfall due to decreases in economic activity thanks to the O’Malley-Brown Administration’s immoral and confiscatory tax increases. When you combine those two factors with the fact that Anthony Brown seems unwilling or incapable of providing the appropriate management and oversight to the few projects he was tasked as Lt. Governor and this is a recipe for disaster for the State of Maryland and its taxpayers. 

The bottom line: Anthony Brown is an incompetent manner and cannot be trusted with taxpayer dollars. And it’s why the Brown Campaign wants to talk about anything but these issues that are important to Maryland’s voters.

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