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The News: Pandemic Grant Inequity in Baltimore and PG County, Buy-Outs at the Baltimore Sun, Ghost Gun Recovery

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: State pandemic small business grants smallest in Baltimore and PG County, $36 for three parking garages, Open Works ready to reopen, and more reporting from The Real News Network, WYPR, Baltimore Fishbowl, and other local and independent news sources.

 

 

Gov. Larry Hogan and Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz announce small business grant and loan programs in March 2020. Credit: Rachel Baye / WYPR

Prince George’s And Baltimore Businesses Lost Out In Pandemic Grant Program, Data Shows
by Rachel Baye
Published June 23 in WYPR

Excerpt: In March 2020, not long after Maryland businesses were forced to close because of the pandemic, Gov. Larry Hogan announced grant and loan programs to help small businesses.

New data, presented during a meeting with Comptroller Peter Franchot Wednesday, reveals disparities in how that money was distributed.

The Maryland Department of Commerce awarded 14,286 grants of up to $10,000 each, totalling nearly $141 million, and 1,654 loans of up to $50,000 each, totalling about $75.3 million. To qualify, businesses could have no more than 50 employees.

The largest share of grants — 18.6%, or $26.2 million — went to businesses in Montgomery County, according to data from the state Department of Commerce presented Wednesday.

By comparison, Prince George’s County, the state’s second most-populous county, is home to roughly the same number of qualified businesses as Montgomery County, but received less than half as much money — $12.5 million or 8.9% of the state’s grants.

Likewise, Montgomery County businesses received 15.6% of the loans, or $11.7 million, compared to Prince George’s County businesses, which received 8.6% of the loans, or $6.6 million.

The Baltimore area saw a similar phenomenon. Baltimore County businesses received $22 million in grants, or 15.7% of the state’s total, and just under $11 million in loans, or 14.6% of the total. Baltimore City had more qualified businesses by the Department of Commerce’s measures, but received just under $14 million in grants, or 9.9% of the total, and $8 million in loans, or 10.6% of the total.

“We’re concerned about those trends, particularly because Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, two majority-minority jurisdictions, have really borne the brunt of the public health and economic consequences of the pandemic,” Franchot said.

 

 

The Sun’s Port Covington printing plant. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Baltimore Sun, Capital Gazette staff members accept buyouts as Alden takes over
by Marcus Dieterle
Published June 21 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: At least six Baltimore Sun Media Group employees, including the editor of the Capital Gazette, three longtime Baltimore Sun editors, an opinion writer and a reporter, have taken buyouts from the newspapers’ new owner, Alden Global Capital.

Alden, the New York-based hedge fund known for making drastic cuts to its newsrooms and squeezing out profits, in May acquired the newspapers’ then-parent company, Tribune Publishing Company.

Tribune shareholders on May 21 approved Alden’s $633 million bid to buy Tribune, despite efforts by staff and community members to steer the newspapers to local ownership, like Maryland businessman Stewart Bainum Jr.

Two days after the purchase, Alden offered buyouts to non-union employees.

 

 

Baltimore Police On Track to Double Ghost Guns Recovered in 2020, Says Deputy Commissioner
by Hannah Gaskill
Published June 23 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Baltimore police are on track to seize at least twice as many privately manufactured firearms — often called “ghost guns” — as they did in 2020, Sheree Briscoe, the city’s deputy police commissioner, said Tuesday.

At a virtual conversation moderated by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy, Briscoe said the department has seen an increase in its recovery of privately manufactured firearms in the last few years.

The department recovered 29 ghost guns in 2019; 126 in 2020; and 83 from January to mid-May this year.

“We’re on pace to surpass last year’s numbers and potentially come in between 250 to 300 privately made firearms that will make their way to the streets of Baltimore in the hands of various age groups [and] communities,” she said.

 

 

Baffling spending item: A $36 contract morphs into $7.5 million
by Mark Reutter
Published June 22 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: What business rivals said was too good to be true – a bid by a Chicago firm to manage three city-owned parking garages for three years for only $36 – has turned out to be exactly that.

Tomorrow, the Board of Estimates will be asked to increase the price of the parking award to SP Plus Corporation from $36 to $7,500,000.

Yes, that’s $7.5 million  – or 208,333 times the contract approved by the spending board two years ago.

Mistakes were made, the city’s procurement office now acknowledges.

UPDATE: The Board of Estimates unanimously approved the $7.5 million increase today after the city’s procurement chief, Keasha L. Brown, called the failure to include operating expenses “an oversight – a very huge oversight. She blamed the mistake on her predecessor, while Parking Authority Director Peter Little blamed it on a “clerical error.”

 

 

Inside Open Works.

Station North makerspace Open Works returns to full capacity July 5. Expect these changes
by Donte Kirby
Published June 22 in Technical.ly Baltimore

Excerpt: After reopening with limited capacity last summer, Station North’s Open Works is officially reopening fully on Monday, July 5, for the first time since the pandemic started. But you can expect a few changes to its membership and pricing structure.

The 34,000-square-foot makerspace space that’s launched many craft and manufacturing startups is doing away with the tiered membership system that separated Open Works’ downstairs builder spaces for wood, metal and digital fabrication from upstairs shops with textiles, 3D printing, digital media and electronics. Now, all of them are bundled in one membership price: a more affordable $80.

“We think equity is a good business model,” Will Holman, executive director of Open Works, told Technical.ly. “When we really looked at the numbers, we only have to modestly grow our membership base to make up for any potential loss.”

 

 

Plane sculpture by Sarah Dougherty, in Area 405 CASA Fundraiser, courtesy of Area 405 website

Displacement looms for artists in Greenmount West’s Area 405
by Fern Shen
Published June 23 in the Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Artists who live and work in the Area 405 building in Greenmount West were stunned when they learned that the building was being listed for sale… They had been told nothing by the building’s owners, 3 Square Feet LLC, but instead read about it in a Baltimore Business Journal piece that announced that Area 405 was now being pitched as “Oliver Street Lofts” with “30-foot ceilings and large windows with vistas of the city.”

Ober also offers a hopeful note from the Central Baltimore Partnership, which in 2018 helped the owners secure grant funds of $200,000 to complete code upgrades on the four-story, 66,580 square-foot building. The Partnership, she writes, has been working in recent months with a local real estate developer and area foundations to buy the building and preserve it as artist’s live-work space.

That is correct, the Partnership’s executive director, Ellen Janes, confirms in an email to The Brew: “We want to preserve both the entire 1st floor and the studios for affordable arts and arts-related use,” Janes said.

 

 

Screenshots TRNN

No Funding? No problem, for Baltimore’s Co-ops (video)
by Jaisal Noor
Published June 21 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: While large corporations received billions in tax breaks and subsidies, worker co-ops struggled to raise capital. So worker-owners in Baltimore started their own revolving loan fund, supporting nearly two dozen co-ops as they successfully weathered COVID-19.

 

 

Courtesy of John McDonald

Baltimore’s Anonymous “Bike Blaze Guy” Comes Clean
by Ron Cassie
Published June 22 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: The first time John McDonald rode the Gwynns Falls Trail, he lost his way. The second, third, fourth, and fifth try, too. Only on his sixth attempt did he finally navigate the full length of the city’s glorious, if complicated, 15-mile urban bike trail.

Completed in 1998, the Gwynns Falls path stretches from Federal Hill to Middle Branch Park in South Baltimore, through Pigtown to the Dickeyville Historic District, and all the way out along the stream valley where it gets its name to the open meadows and Piedmont forest at the far western edges of the city.

The unique greenway connects no less than 10 parks, 32 neighborhoods, and 31 historical sites, interpretative panels included. It’s a treasure, if originally a hidden one.

“Each time I started riding, I’d gradually realize I’d wandered off the trail and have to get back on track,” says McDonald, a lifelong cyclist and now retired college professor. “I thought it was great, I just didn’t think it should be so difficult to follow. I didn’t want to keep stopping every few minutes to pull out a map because that’s not fun. It needed signage.”

 

 

The construction of new underground reservoir tanks at Druid Hill Park is near completion, so planning of shoreline amenities can begin.

With underground water storage tanks installed, planning for Druid Hill Park shoreline amenities gets underway
by Adam DeRose
Published June 22 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: As a massive reconstruction of a Baltimore reservoir at Druid Hill Park nears completion, the project is set to move to a new phase: reimagining a destination shoreline with artwork, swimming, biking and other amenities for city residents.

In the meantime, Baltimoreans and commuters can expect a reprieve from construction and roadwork before the next stage gets underway.

City Department of Public Works officials are estimating that a $135 million portion of the project to install huge underground tanks for a new reservoir is on schedule for completion in Spring 2022.

“The timeline that was presented was a bit under five years, and so we’re basically nearing 90 percent of that time, and we have completed a bit over 90 percent of the work,” said project manager Omar Morsey. “I think that’s where we want to be in the project schedule.”

 

 

Democrats in Annapolis on Wednesday blasted Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s decision to cease expanded unemployment programs. Leaders in the General Assembly are exploring ways to maintain the benefits, including the possibility of legislative action during a special session. File photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Lawmakers Press State Officials on Unemployment Benefits as Expanded Federal Payments End
by Elizabeth Shwe
Published June 23 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: With supplemental federal unemployment benefits slated to end next week in Maryland, state lawmakers sharply questioned Department of Labor officials Wednesday on their plans to resolve ongoing customer service issues and insisted the agency fully implement a recent emergency bill intended to enhance the unemployment claim process.

There are still 24,109 pending unemployment benefit claims, which makes up 3% of total claims received in recent months, according to Tiffany Robinson, the Maryland secretary of Labor. Most of these claims have been disputed by an employer, which are the most complex cases and take a long time to investigate, because the department serves both the employers and workers, she said.

Lawmakers called the backlog of cases unacceptable.

“It’s great that we’ve [addressed] 97% [of claimants], but it’s that 3% that we continue to hear from,” Del. Edward (Ned) Carey (D-Anne Arundel) said during the Joint Committee on Unemployment Insurance Oversight hearing on Wednesday.

 

 

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Photo by soomness via Flickr Creative Commons.

Chesapeake Bay health improves slightly to a C grade in new report, but environmental advocates say progress is too slow
by Marcus Dieterle
Published June 23 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: The health of the Chesapeake Bay in 2020 improved to a grade of a C, up slightly from a C-minus in 2019, according to a report that the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) released on Tuesday.

The bay’s watershed, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay and encompasses parts of six states and Washington, D.C., received a B-minus score for the second year in a row on its health report card.

But environmental advocates said progress to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and watershed are moving too slow to reach a key 2025 deadline.

In December 2020, the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load agreement among Maryland; Delaware; Virginia; West Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Pennsylvania; and New York who each make up part of the more than 64,000 square miles that the Chesapeake Bay watershed covers.

The agreement identifies major contributors of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and sets limits to restore the bay and its tidal rivers by 2025.

Alison Prost, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration, said in a statement that the UMCES report confirms “we are far short of a restored Bay.”

 

 

Header image: inside Open Works, courtesy of Open Works via Technical.ly Baltimore

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