On March 22, 2022, Maryland Congressman C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger unveiled new legislation to help bring federal economic revitalization incentives to Baltimore’s Tradepoint Atlantic and other projects near economically distressed communities around the country.
The Rust to Revitalization Act will encourage private investment in projects at industrial brownfields that are adjacent to low-income neighborhoods.
The legislation is the culmination of a multi-year, bipartisan effort at the federal, state and local level. The bill addresses a gap in the federal Opportunity Zone program created in 2017 to encourage investment in low-income areas that excluded parcels that are unpopulated yet are nonetheless ideal for revitalization.
Baltimore County’s Turner Station was designated a federal opportunity zone in 2018, but the adjacent parcel owned and operated by Tradepoint Atlantic in Sparrows Point was left out because it did not meet the population requirement.
The narrowly-tailored “Rust to Revitalization Act” expands opportunity zones to include census tracts that have zero population if they were previously used for industrial purposes and are a brownfield site. They must also be adjacent on at least one side to a populated census tract that is already an opportunity zone.
“Projects like Tradepoint Atlantic are entirely consistent with the intent of the Opportunity Zone program – in fact, these zero-population parcels have even greater potential for revitalization without the risk of displacing current residents,” Congressman Ruppersberger said.
“The Rust to Revitalization Act is supported by the community and my colleagues at every level, and on both sides of the aisle, because it will spur billions of dollars in private investment not just here in Baltimore, but all over the country. It will create quality jobs where none exist,” he added.
Tradepoint Atlantic redevelopment project is a massive logistics center that will eventually employ 21,000 people at the former home of the Bethlehem Steel mill.
After earning billions in profits, the Bethlehem Steel plant was shuttered in 2012, leaving behind one of the largest environmentally-contaminated industrial sites on the east coast for (primarily) taxpayers to clean up (an economic dynamic known as corporate socialism).
Scott Shewcraft, Vice President of Policy at the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) said “Many low-income communities are home to industrial brownfield sites that have become visible signs of decay within their communities. This legislation would expand the reach of the Opportunity Zones incentive so that those areas can be transformed to once again serve as anchors of economic activity. EIG welcomes this and other bipartisan efforts to build upon and enhance the original Opportunity Zones legislation in ways that improve economic well-being for overlooked communities nationwide.”
There are as many as 100 census tracts around the country that have no population and therefore cannot meet the population criteria – yet are ideal for creating jobs for the residents next door.
“The Rust to Revitalization act will correct an unintended federal oversight that disqualified many former zero-population industrial brownfield sites from Opportunity Zone benefits,” said Aaron Tomarchio, Executive Vice President for Corporate Affairs at Tradepoint Atlantic.
“Adding an Opportunity Zone designation as a site selection incentive tool for Sparrows Point will help attract new tenant investment, the jobs they bring, and the large amount of additional private investment needed to continue with the vision of a fully revitalized Sparrows Point and the communities around it,” he concluded.
The bill has the full support of the Turner Station Conservation Board, members of which attended Tuesday’s event along with representatives from Governor Larry Hogan and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski.
Featured photo of Sparrows Point is courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.