Baltimore City Council president urges renewed State Center negotiations

The following article first appeared in the Daily Record on Feb 9th: 

The president of the Baltimore City Council has asked Gov. Larry Hogan to restart negotiations with the developer of the stalled State Center redevelopment.

Bernard C. “Jack” Young, in a letter sent to Hogan on Thursday, cited the movement of jobs out of Baltimore and stagnation of redevelopment at the State Center complex as reason to restart negotiations over the $1.5 billion proposal. Young also mentioned the project was “put into motion” by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford when he was secretary of the Department of General Services.

“The people of Baltimore have waited long enough for the redevelopment of State Center,” Young wrote. “I would also request that you keep your commitment to the citizens of Baltimore by improving the deplorable conditions in the State’s building and keeping the 3,000 State Center jobs in the city.”

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh previously said her objective is to keep roughly 3,000 state jobs at State Center in the city. She also indicated she’s open to that state leasing offices at another development as long as the jobs stay in the city.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said Thursday the letter is not a break with the mayor’s position. He said the ultimate goal is to try and get both parties back to the table.

“He’s just saying that we do not believe we’ve exhausted the negotiations,” Davis said.

In a statement emailed from Hogan spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill reaffirmed its desire to see the State Center site redeveloped.

“Governor Hogan has repeatedly expressed his commitment to moving forward and finally redeveloping State Center – action that is long overdue. No one is going to stop the governor, the administration, and the Baltimore city leadership from redeveloping this site,” according to the statement.

Developer State Center LLC and the state, the would-be lead tenant of the redevelopment, sued each other in Baltimore City Circuit Court after a mediation process regarding the project failed. The Board of Public Works, which is controlled by the governor, then rescinded lease agreements with the developer in December, essentially killing the project.

Hogan said at the time he had conversations with Pugh and Young about the redevelopment. During the board meeting the governor said he’s “totally committed to developing something truly great at State Center.”

Hogan, with vocal support from Comptroller Peter Franchot, also fast-tracked a Maryland Stadium Authority study examining the potential for a new arena at the 28-acre campus serve by metro and light rail stops.

Pugh, a former state senator who represented the area where State Center is located, has declined to criticize the Board of Public Works decision to rescind the leases and maintained a cordial relationship with Hogan.

The long-in-the-works State Center redevelopment proposal dates back to the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who left office in 2007. The project was delayed by a legal challenge, backed by attorney Peter G. Angelos, questioning the process the state used for selecting a developer. In 2014, the Court of Appeals unanimously ruled plaintiffs waited to long to challenge the procurement process.

In July, the developer and state started a mediation process aimed at ending a stalemate over the project. But that process, which initially was expected to last 30 days, dragged on for months before failing late last year. 

The letter follows a community meeting in west Baltimore on Wednesday where the developer, clergy and community activists urged the state to start the redevelopment. During the meeting the project’s backers emphasized the importance of a grocery store at the Fifth Regiment Armory proposed as part of the planned overhaul.

Melissa Heuer