The Chatter

Was a Developer’s $10 Billion “Baltimore Renaissance” Plan an FBI Sting Or Just Fantasy?

New five-part podcast examines the curious case of Virginia businessman Kahan Dhillon.

By Ron Cassie | January 29, 2019, 3:56 pm

The Chatter

Was a Developer’s $10 Billion “Baltimore Renaissance” Plan an FBI Sting Or Just Fantasy?

New five-part podcast examines the curious case of Virginia businessman Kahan Dhillon.

By Ron Cassie | January 29, 2019, 3:56 pm

In Town of the Big House, a new five-part podcast series hosted by WYPR, local documentary producer Richard Yeagley embeds with an unknown Virginia real estate developer named Kahan Dhillon, who seemingly arrived out of nowhere in Baltimore in 2016, proposing a massive $10 billion citywide development plan.

Dhillon’s pitch to the city, which he dubbed “The Baltimore Renaissance,” earned him interviews and headlines from much of the local media—including WBAL, The Baltimore Sun, The Baltimore Business Journal, as well as WYPR. He claimed personal and private investment commitments of $200 million for the effort and garnered meetings with numerous community leaders and local officials, including City Council President Jack Young, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, and William Cole, president and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corp. (Young even sent out an email introducing Dhillon to his fellow council members.)

City Councilman John Bullock eventually invited Dhillon—founder of a small Alexandria, Virginia, real estate company—to air his plan at a council hearing in July 2017, which is where everything kind of fell apart.

It all sounded too vague, not to mention too good to be true, to a couple of council members—especially when Dhillon said he was seeking $3.5 million in planning fees to launch his project. In particular, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Eric Costello questioned the seriousness and real-world clout behind Dhillon’s thin initiative. “The Baltimore Renaissance” plan basically died on the spot, although Dhillon has remained on the periphery of city politics and community activism.

In Town of the Big House, Yeagley, who spent 18 months tracking Dhillon as he promoted his project, raises the specter that the would-be developer was, at least initially, part of a Baltimore-based political corruption investigation by the FBI. “That’s my working theory,” he told Baltimore magazine. Specifically, Yeagley tries to connect the timeline of Dhillon’s early efforts with the timeline of the FBI investigation into former state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks. In January of 2017, six months before Dhillon’s formal pitch to the City Council, Oaks confessed to the FBI that he had accepted payments from an informant posing as an out-of-town developer. Ultimately, Yeagley posits—albeit without definitive evidence—Dhillon just ran with the project after the FBI was forced to end their investigation.

According to the FBI, “as a result of Oaks’ deliberate and intentional conduct in tipping off” another political target of their investigation, their covert investigation into that politician, and "possibly other politicians" was no longer viable.

The podcast doesn’t provide any answers to the basic questions it raises and certainly does not claim any criminal wrongdoing by Dhillon. But it is a compelling recount of a strange saga, and a revealing look behind-the-scenes at Baltimore politics and the outsized role developers play in shaping the city.

It is also a tale of a city desperate for big change and susceptible to big promises.

Responding by email, Dhillon defended his integrity and said of series: “The podcast simply put is full of false commentary, innuendos and alternative facts.” He also sent a link to an audio clip put together by a supporter than does not address the fundamental issues raised in Town of the Big House, but disparages Yeagley’s purpose and character.

We suggest you check the podcast, it's a fun and compelling listen, do some further research if you wish, and decide for yourself what it all means.




Meet The Author

Ron Cassie is a senior editor for Baltimore, where he covers the environment, education, medicine, politics, and city life.



You May Also Like


The Chatter

Ten of Many Reasons Why We Love Charm City

We revisit stories that make us proud to call ourselves Baltimoreans.

The Chatter

Charm City Games Kicks Off Inaugural Year at Canton Waterfront Park

Rec and Parks-led initiative hopes to bring kids together in the name of friendly competition.

The Chatter

John Delaney Qualified for Presidential Debate. But Who is He?

Montgomery County businessman and former Maryland representative launched long-shot bid two years ago.


The Chatter

Trump's Continued Attacks on Baltimore Addressed in Democratic Presidential Debate

Candidates are some of many who have come to the city’s defense in recent days.

The Chatter

Rat-Centric Real Estate Listing Puts Positive Spin on Baltimore Criticism

Dudley Roan Home Team places costumed rat in photos of latest listing.

Arts District

Baltimore Museum of Art Debuts New Branch at Lexington Market

BMA partners with the market to provide art programs, presentations, and gatherings.

Connect With Us

Most Read


Oletha DeVane Showcases Sculptural Works in 'Traces of Spirit' at the BMA: Local multidisciplinary artist explores religion, nature, and humanity in exhibit on view through October 20.

Relics of Baltimore's Forgotten Punk Scene Showcased in New Metro Gallery Exhibit: Celebrated Summer Records owner Tony Pence curates fliers, photos, and music from 1977 to 1989.

Decades Night Club Documents Baltimore Club Music History at the Peale Center: We speak with curator Mia Loving about her latest exhibit, on view through this week.

Developers Hope to Unveil Greektown’s Yard 56 by 2020: The mixed-use project will be anchored by Streets Market and LA Fitness.

Severe Flooding Plagues Neighborhoods Surrounding the Inner Harbor: Stark images of Harbor East and Fells Point arise on social media as area reckons with heavy rainfall.