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County Council should deny bailout for Towson Row

Site of the planned Towson Row

An op-ed by Peta N. Richkus

My county councilman, David Marks, has indicated he intends to support the proposed $43 million infusion of taxpayer dollars as described in the Towson Row Development Agreement, scheduled to be discussed in a Tuesday work session and voted on the following week. [Marks’ response is below.]

I have urged Councilman Marks to reconsider and to instead represent his constituents’ wishes and oppose this questionable deal. I urge others on the Baltimore County Council to do the same.

Sadly, the Kamenetz administration’s history with Caves Valley Partners has undermined its credibility with the community. The insulting and duplicitous behavior of Caves Valley toward the community regarding the Towson Gateway project (the Royal Farms at York Road and Bosley Avenue) has severely undermined any faith in their fair dealing. The recent revelation of the County Executive’s undisclosed lease extension on the Gateway property adds insult to injury.

How could a savvy developer like Greenberg Gibbons join a project four years after it began, and then, a few months after announcing in glowing terms its new partnership with Caves Valley, suddenly declares the project is “economically not feasible” unless it receives a taxpayer bailout?

Now, Caves Valley and their new Towson Row partners have come up with a scheme to have the County front-end $43 million in project financing — on top of infrastructure upgrades the County has already made in support of Towson Row. And the Administration has been persuaded to go along?

So many statements made by Caves Valley about the Towson Row project since it was announced in 2013 have proven demonstrably false.

How could a savvy developer like Greenberg Gibbons join a project four years after it began, and then, a few months after announcing in glowing terms its new partnership with Caves Valley, suddenly declares the project is “economically not feasible” unless it receives a taxpayer bailout?

Remember, it was only May 15, 2017, that Brian Gibbons, chairman and chief executive officer of Greenberg Gibbons, proclaimed in a press release: “We are excited to partner with [Caves Valley] on this transformational landmark project and facilitate the vibrant revitalization of Downtown Towson. As a local company that really knows this market, we see tremendous opportunity to create a positive economic impact while bringing exciting benefits to the community. While there are obstacles to overcome and challenges ahead, we are confident that our joint venture has the experience, capital and commitment to move this project forward.” (Emphasis mine.)

How could the numbers have deteriorated so much in just a few months, after what one must expect was a careful due-diligence review by Greenberg Gibbons, and given the fact that external circumstances haven’t changed and the economy is healthy?

The public is justified in being skeptical about the details of the deal — including the Administration’s projection of a 12- to 14-year payback period.

Our elected officials and appointed administrators owe a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. They are expected to exercise good stewardship of public funds. This new agreement will deprive the County of funds needed now to meet the County’s budget requirements. It should not go forward.

The Council’s best exercise of its fiduciary responsibility is to oppose this grant of $43 million of County aid to Towson Row Development Trust.

–Peta N. Richkus
Retired, a resident of District 5, Towson, for more than 10 years

Councilman David Marks replied to this op-ed with this statement:  “It would have been helpful if Ms. Richkus had spoken to me before sending her editorial.  My position is as follows: I want to see Towson Row built. I believe Greenberg Gibbons is a superior developer to the previous developer, and have confidence in their abilities to get this job done. Baltimore County has tools that can help jumpstart projects like this, and I would have preferred that the county offer a conditional loan than a grant. Since the County Executive’s office waited until the Friday after Thanksgiving to disclose this proposal, I look forward to Tuesday’s work session to hear the pros and cons of this plan.”


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