Land of opportunity (zones): Can a new federal program bring investment to neglected Baltimore neighborhoods?
Pastor Donte L. Hickman Sr. says opportunity zones have the potential to transform Broadway East from blight to new heights.
The leader of Southern Baptist Church at 1701 N. Chester St. said the federal program — ramping up in 2019 amid promises of federal tax breaks for private investors — could meld religion and politics for the better in his distressed community, kind of like divine intervention meets the perfect storm.
"We have hopes and dreams," Hickman said. "And the opportunity zones are an answer to our prayers."
Across Baltimore, Hickman's grassroots optimism is being shared by business and community leaders alike. From Park Heights to Madison East, Hollins Market, Pimlico and Port Covington in South Baltimore, the potential for millions of new capital flowing into some or all the 42 designated zones has created a wave of promise.
The 10-year opportunity zone program was made to do just that — and offer tax incentives to private investors in return.
Created last year as part of the federal tax package, opportunity zones are being administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury. They are part of a program that is still being crafted by the agency, even as it has set off a national frenzy to inject private capital into low-income communities. Baltimore drew national attention after President Donald Trump accepted Pastor Hickman's invite to visit the city on Dec. 12 to talk about the zones. (The trip was later canceled).
For some areas in Baltimore, it has jackpot potential.
"We want Baltimore to get as many dollars as possible and be able to maximize as much of it into the city," said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, which is funding a newly created position at the Baltimore Development Corp. focused on opportunity zones.
"I know there's a lot of money allegedly available," said Embry, a former city housing commissioner. "Hopefully it will make something happen in depressed areas of the city that are not always eligible. I want Baltimore to get its share."
Under the Abell grant, Benjamin Seigel is already focused at the BDC as opportunity zone coordinator. He said he has identified five out of about 25 national opportunity zone funds that could potentially invest here and he has scheduled a Dec. 17 tour with representatives from one fund based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to show off potential workforce housing and transit-oriented development sites.
Source: Baltimore Business Journal