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  • Writer's pictureNeville The Closer

Opportunity zones mean city's neglected communities may soon see investment

With the advent of opportunity zones this year came a renewed hope for redevelopment in long-ignored areas of Baltimore.

That means city neighborhoods like Park Heights, Broadway East, Coppin Heights, Mondawmin and dozens of others could be in focus for large-scale renewals as the program rams up in 2019.

It's another step in the push by city officials to reinvest in some of the city's long-neglected areas that have been pockmarked with blight and vacancy while other parts like the waterfront have been spotlighted and remade.

The push to remake the fringe communities was made real with the arrival of the opportunity zone program. Created in Congress as part of the new federal tax legislation last year, it seeks to lure private investors to put money into funds aimed at development projects in underserved communities. Doing so will result in tax cuts on capital gains for up to a decade, depending on how long the investment remains in the funds.

In Broadway East, such funding means the ongoing push to rebuild blocks of vacant rowhouses could get new traction next year. It means that a much needed grocery store could be built off of Patterson Park Avenue and a new health and wellness center may begin to take shape.

The planned redevelopment of Perkins Homes and the former Somerset Homes site in east Baltimore is also part of the opportunity zone and that nearly $1 billion project to cover 200 acres of urban landscape could move faster with the investment, said Daniel P. Henson III, president of Henson Development Co., one of the partners.

Across the city in Madison Park, the opportunity zone designation there means investors could help fund redevelopment of a large swath of land just off of North Avenue near Interstate 83.

Up the road in the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, plans to upgrade the commercial corridor with new businesses and affordable housing could get a much needed boost if opportunity zone funds are applied. Further west, the ongoing redevelopment of Coppin Heights likely could be expanded with investment funds — all part of the hopes community leaders are expressing this month as the program begins in full early next year.

Opportunity zone funds will allow private investors to place capital gains into a fund that can be used to upgrade and redevelop a community with new housing, retail and other commercial projects with tax breaks available based on the length of the investment. Baltimore has 42 opportunity zones, based on census tracts and zip codes. In Maryland, there is a total of 149 zones.

Already, certain funds are taking shape.

Big banks are spearheading a nearly $500 million fund for equity and loans in opportunity zones.

In Port Covington, another city opportunity zone, Weller Development is on the lookout for investors to help build Cyber Town USA. The development will, in turn, help boost surrounding areas like Cherry Hill, Brooklyn and Curtis Bay too, said Demian Costa, managing partner in Sagamore Ventures, who is working with Weller to attract opportunity zone investors.

"We’re growing the pie in Baltimore, and making the city better from within," Costa said.

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