The following article first appeared in Baltimore citybizlist on Jan 23, 2017:
Q&A with Caroline Moore, CEO of Ekistics a Baltimore-based development firm with deep expertise in urban infill and adaptive re-use projects and the lead developer of the State Center mixed use development project in Baltimore, Maryland.
Q: What exactly is State Center?
State Center is a major State employment center with the largest concentration of State agencies in Maryland employing over 3,000 people. The bridge between Midtown and West Baltimore in the heart of the Cultural Arts District, the land sits adjacent to University of Baltimore and the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Built originally in the 50’s and 60’s, it’sunfortunately now an isolated fortress of asphalt and obsolete buildings that divides and weakens the surrounding nineneighborhoods. It is a run-down, rat infested space that was in dire need for an update 10 years ago and provides deplorable working conditions for the state workers who are currently stationed there. It is a constant drain of taxpayer money, its condition is a total liability, and it is an inhuman work facility for our State workers.
Q: As the Developer, what is your plan for the space?
Our goal is, at its core, to breathe new life into this long neglected district and community.
The plan brings new, efficient state and private offices, residentialunits,a grocery store, a school, parking and retail to the area. The underpinnings of the project are financially sound and would reduce the State’s current wasteful spending on their poorly maintained campus. Most importantly, this would spur substantial investment in more private development with retail, residential and offices catering to the healthcare, education and tech innovation sectors that are the driving force behind economic growth here in Maryland.
The redevelopment project would enrich and unite these communities providing state of the art facilities, new jobs, amenities and economic opportunity.
Q: What is the current status of the project?
The project is shovel-ready and if given the green light we could begin construction in a mere 60 days. We could, almost overnight, create over 20,000 new jobs in our community. And finally, after all this time, we could bring life back to a central yet desolate area of our city.
That said, after ten years of planning and approvals, support and excitement from the community, and sign off from two state administrations, the project was irrationally rejected by the Board of Public Works last month, led by Governor Hogan.
This community should not have to wait another decade to get the job opportunities, safe working space, and new vibrant community amenities it desperately needs.Not to mention, The State identified deplorable working conditions for State workers at State Center in 2005 and 12 years later, the conditions have worsened. The State should be held accountable to their negligence delivered on account of petty politics and personal whims.
Q: At the Board of Public Works meeting, Gov. Hogan announced his plan to fast track a study for an arena. Would that be a viable option for State Center?
The arena idea is a risky gamble that is at best 10years off in the future with no plan or team associated with it. State Center is a real, fully baked, plan with real, long term jobs that can start right now. We cannot wait 10years for a “maybe.” The last thing we need is an arena to further divide the surrounding communities and create more dead space of blank walls and endless traffic congestion.
Q: Does redeveloping make sense, fiscally, for the state?
This is the classic paint by numbers Public Private Partnership that leverages private investments for the public good, creating a win for the community, for the economy, for the city and the state.
Monetarily, the State will only invest $1.5m/year more in the form of rental payments for new offices in a mixed-use private development than what they currently spend wastefully in a dilapidated liability. And not only that, but that cost would be offset by a 7% profit share with the State of Maryland on everything developed on the land...
If you include the benefit of all the additional taxes paid in the public profit calculus—the State’s own analysis showed it was a pure economic boon to both the State and the City.
Q: What does this all mean for businesses in Baltimore?
More than anything, it raises a major concern: If the Governor of the State of Maryland can rescind contracts at will with private parties that have followed exactly what the State initiated and asked for - then we should expect our bond rating to suffer as a result of the lack of confidence anyone can put in the State doing what it says it will do.
Q: Are you still anticipating the possibility that you will develop the property?
The short answer is, yes. Our goal is to help the West Baltimore community move forward with a development that will enhance life for the neighborhood: this means new jobs, new shops, a grocery store, a school, and new opportunity.
For more information and live updates, follow State Center on Twitter and Facebook.
Caroline G. Moore, CEO of Ekistics, has over 30 years of experience in public-private partnerships and mixed-use developments and is leading the effort to save State Center.