State Center contract cancellation is 'political posturing at its worst'

The following article first appeared in the Baltimore Sun on Dec 22, 2016:

The verdict of Wednesday's Board of Public Works meeting to cancel State Center contracts, which eliminated thousands of jobs meant to build and run the redeveloped complex, is more than just a disappointing outcome. It is an example of political posturing at its worst.

By attempting to invalidate the occupancy and ground leases for the redevelopment, the governor is turning his back on the City of Baltimore, thousands of state employees mired in deplorable working conditions and thousands of Marylanders looking for work, who are now cut off from the jobs the project would have created. The governor says he is "fully committed to redeveloping State Center," but he obviously has no plan. He has ordered a "feasibility study," which is government-speak for condemning the State Center campus to the deepest circle of bureaucratic hell. What the governor is really saying is that State Center will continue to blight Baltimore for the remainder of his term and the next.

The governor's action blatantly disregards the strong support voiced for the project by the general public, local businesses and community. There has been no meaningful opportunity for public input and commentary in the governor's decision-making process. The governor provided notice of his proposed action the night before he took it, hardly interested in what the citizens of Maryland might say. Nor did the governor provide any notice to the state's long-time contracting partner, State Center LLC.

The project developer attempted to work with the Hogan administration to find a path forward for more than a year. The developer made offer after offer to modify the project to address any concern the governor might have. The governor "considered" each proposal for months, and then declined it without any substantive alternative suggestion of how we might meet the governor's wishes. The governor even rejected my right to address the Board of Public Works, which is supposed to hold open and transparent meetings, regarding the merits of the project on behalf of the Maryland small business that has invested millions in moving it forward.

The board's action will not save a dime of taxpayer dollars. To put this into perspective, the state currently spends tens of millions of dollars annually to maintain the current campus in its horrific state — far less than the long-agreed rent for the new sustainable office buildings that would make up a small part of the mixed-use private development.

Wednesday's action seeks callously to break a contract with a Maryland small business, which the governor failed to mention in his rushed board presentation. Maryland is hardly now "open for business," as the governor has claimed, if contractors cannot rely on the state's contractual promises. Small business executing a contract with Maryland are supposed to spend millions, but this governor will walk away whenever he wishes without a word about making it right.

I urge the people of Baltimore to contact the governor, treasurer and comptroller to support a project that is ready to go today to solve the State Center problem and to reject loose talk about redevelopment ideas that will not happen for decades. I urge any serious advocate for more jobs in Maryland, and anyone looking for well-paying work, to demand that the governor stop obstructing the State Center project. I urge the state employees to insist that the governor cease putting politics above healthy and safe working conditions for our dedicated public servants. And I urge Maryland businesses to demand that the state honor its contractual commitments, just like everyone else must.

Michael J. Edney is a lawyer with Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP and counsel to State Center LLC. His email is michael.edney@nortonrosefulbright.com.

Melissa Heuer