Protesters rally against city subsidy to BioPark

By Julie Podczaski
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Community activists and city residents marched down North Fremont Avenue to West Baltimore Street last Tuesday to protest a $17.5 million tax increment financing subsidy that will go to developer Wexford Science & Technology to expand the University of Maryland’s BioPark in West Baltimore.

The subsidy was approved by the City Council in February and would help Wexford build a new eight-story, $110 million incubator at the 873 W. Baltimore St. property that could become the home to a branch of the Massachusetts-based Cambridge Innovation Center.

Protesters march against a subsidy the city gave to the developer of the University of Maryland’s BioPark. Photo by Julie Podczaski.

Protesters march against a subsidy the city gave to the developer of the University of Maryland’s BioPark. Photo by Julie Podczaski.

In exchange for the TIF, Wexford Science & Technology will create a $4 million community benefits agreement that officials say would help address parking problems and create 1,400 jobs, among other things. See here  and here for more information.

But while the community benefits agreement sounds promising to some, residents of the local Poe Homes – which are just a few blocks from the BioPark – say they have seen their requests for help go ignored by the city over the past several months.

The protest began when the Poe-Terrace Tenant Association met at the Poe Homes Community Center to address their opposition to the TIF, which was approved by the council Feb. 2.

“Anyone that has a job in Baltimore City is paying into that (TIF) and is giving that money away,” Baltimore mayoral candidate Joshua Harris said during the protest  at the Poe Homes Community Center. “That money takes away from our education system and financing that goes to our school systems, but more importantly, this community specifically, with some of the highest concentrations in poverty in the city, made specific requests that would create jobs, train people for those jobs and invest in our youth. Those requests were made to be included in the community benefits agreement between the developers for the project. It was ignored.”

Protesters say the city helps the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Photo by Julie Podczaski.

Protesters say the city helps the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Photo by Julie Podczaski.

Harris said there were months of meetings to discuss these requests  to maximize community benefits, but that no one listened.

“While the wealthy developers were able to testify in favor of it, we were not,” Harris said.

One of the protest’s marchers, Nnamdi Scott, a City Council candidate from the Seventh District, said he agreed with Harris.

“The real issue for us is that working class communities, black working class communities, have been used for their poverty levels to grow our money into different parts of the city, but then locked out of the resources that were promised,” Scott said. “And we don’t believe that the system itself is broken, we believe that capitalism is functioning the way it was designed to exploit people – to exploit working and poor people and to enrich people who are already wealthy.”

As residents marched behind the Baltimore Christian Warriors Marching Band’s drum line, Diane Smith, a mother of eight, protested for new jobs and recreational centers for the youth.

“Our young people in this community need jobs, they need something to occupy their time,” Smith said. “There’s nothing for them to do but sell drugs or kill one another and it’s a shame we’re burying so many young people instead of older people.”

In a petition on change.org, supporters are asking for the creation and development of Poppleton Training Academy and the renovation of the James McHenry recreation facility.

The protest, which lasted about an hour, brought local students as young as seventh graders, to longtime residents like Stelios Spiladis, owner of the Inn at the Black Olive in Fell’s Point.

“In April, I found myself in the same place that I was in 1968,” Spiladis said. “Now is the time, particularly for young people, to learn the history of the exploitation that has been taking place and join the old folks, hear the story of Baltimore and join us in a movement that hopefully can do better than we did in the past.”

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