Thanks to a state formula that supports local schools based on assessed wealth and not actually collected taxes, the debate about tax credits has fully flamed up again. Is it smart to give developers those incentives?
I opined on Facebook:
In this debate about tax breaks we need to be sure we remember things correctly. It was [Mayor] Schaefer's vision that anticipated Inner Harbor East and the land owners were reluctant to embrace it. [Baltimore baking magnate] Paterakis said "I am a baker, not a developer." The city then paid up front for streets, sidewalks, all new utilities and new bulkheads and, still, that layout sat there for years with just little Victors cafe overlooking the water and no investors until finally Sylvan Learning Center, one of Baltimore's first start ups built a modest headquarter there. It was Schmoke who then thought that this place would be great for a Convention Center hotel. When Paterakis wanted to build a real big hotel I helped fighting the tall tower because it violated the masterplan [which concentrated tall buildings in the center allowing views of the water]. So it got somewhat smaller, the incentives were put out to get it built and Harbor East started to unfold.
Without any of this public subsidy, would Harbor East still sit fallow? Probably not, but it would most likely not have followed an award winning masterplan at all and it may have happened much slower. Would the City have made more money with no incentives? Who can say, but we should keep in mind that tax breaks require that first something has to be in place to give the break on.
And don't we still have many more places where there is nothing in place for which to give a break? We tend to forget that those areas of desolation included once even the waterfront. That is not to say neither the city or developers should forever act like beggars but we do need to remember correctly.