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Re-igniting Baltimore

October 21, 2012

I finally spoke at Ignite Baltimore, joining the ranks of such luminaries as Kevin Griffin Moreno and Lionel Foster (or here for Lionel’s Ignite Education talk).

My five minutes focused on Baltimore’s propensity to bet on large development projects with questionable return on investment; I specifically cited a public-private plan to construct a new entertainment arena, expand the Convention Center and build an adjoining hotel. While there’s no doubt the Downtown tourism hub needs a facelift, I question whether that investment needs to be made now, particularly in contrast to the $2.45 billion in estimated school renovation needs. Moreover, a city with financial constraints should be looking for the most bang for its buck–and there’s a lot to doubt when making big projects central to economic development plans.

It’s through this lens that I examine the city’s proposed $35 million tax-increment financing deal to pay for infrastructure improvements around Under Armour’s expansion of its corporate campus. On the one hand, Under Armour appears to be a good corporate citizen and if the homegrown giant left the city, it would be a significant and embarrassing blow. On top of that, the city is largely responsible for the sort of infrastructure improvements Under Armour’s expansion plan requires. In technical and political terms, the Under Armour deal passes the “eyeball test.” Would I rather the city use TIF deals on more neighborhood and resident focused projects?


And then I’m reminded of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s $350 million plan to revitalize Las Vegas and I wonder why Baltimore can’t get that kind of investment.

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