Howard Councilmembers Aim To Revisit Columbia TIF

Howard County Councilmembers Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa plan to introduce a bill to place the county’s $90 million tax increment financing (TIF) project in Columbia on hold, pending opportunity for public input into changes in the program.

The Council approved the TIF last November, then intending for it to finance supporting infrastructure including a 2,545-car parking garage near Merriweather Post Pavilion. Since that time, developer Howard Hughes opted to control and operate the garage, rendering it ineligible for the public financing.

The Baltimore Business Journal reports:

[County Executive Allan] Kittleman said Howard Hughes, which is overseeing downtown Columbia’s multiyear, $1 billion redevelopment, agreed to open the garage for public use on weeknights and weekends. He suggested the county could spend the TIF money on accelerating road projects instead, such as building a jug handle that could quickly move people from Route 29 into downtown Columbia.

“If we can move up that road improvement and have them build a garage that’s still public, it’s a win-win for us,” he said. “We’re getting all the amenities we wanted, but now we get some more money to help with the traffic in the area.”

Ball said funding decisions this substantial should not be made unilaterally.

“Generally, most developers who develop have to pay for certain road improvements,” he said. “The free public garage was a substantial component of the TIF, and my understanding was that the TIF was needed to ensure that we would have free public parking downtown. If that is not the case, I think that we should have a transparent community conversation about how we want to use the money.”

Council Bill 74-2017 is scheduled for introduction on Tuesday night.