Many Baltimoreans were stunned by the recent revelation that the metro area is one of the most expensive places to live in the nation. Low-wage workers serving Harbor Place and other tourist venue employers have known and dealt with this fact for years. They organized to address their plight collectively. The result of this organizing is United Workers, a collective of “low-wage workers leading the way to poverty’s end.”
United Workers and allies protested at the headquarters of Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) over the lack of transparency in dealings between the Corporation and real estate developers. The Cordish Company, “one of the largest and most respected developers in the world” has sought from the BDC rent concessions on other property it leases from Baltimore City totaling $3 million in exchange for improvements it intends to make at Power Plant Live which it leases from the city for $1,000.00 per year plus 22% of net profits. United Workers has a problem with this because there has been no public notification or input concerning the negotiations on the proposal.
The workers call for implementation of what they call “fair development” when developers utilize public funds or resources in their planning process. Unfortunately when development plans are goals are held secret there is no medium for public input. United Workers released a paper called, “Hidden in Plain Sight” which documents the need for fair development and the barriers to its implementation.
The Baltimore Development Corporation, created under former mayor William Donald Schaeffer, is a so-called quasi-public organization. It seeks funding from city government as any other public agency while maintaining the secrecy of a private company. The theory proposed by quasi-public development organizations is the secrecy is needed to conduct sensitive business negotiations. Community organizers counter that this secrecy keeps the public from knowing how public funds are used.
For background on how the development process works in Baltimore, please see Betty G. Robinson’s article, The Walmart Struggle in Baltimore – An Organizer Reflects on Addressing Public Money Giveaways to Corporate Power.