99 workers moved from Baltimore's State Center

The following article first appeared in the Baltimore Sun on Jan 26. 

The state government relocated 99 employees from Baltimore's State Center complex last year, sparking concerns that more relocations could follow.

News of the move emerged this week, as officials debate the future of the long-planned redevelopment of the aging government complex just north of downtown.

Gov. Larry Hogan and the state Board of Public Works voted last month to cancel leases that underpinned the state's agreement with a private developer to turn the 1960s-era buildings into a mix of homes, offices and shops. The developer, State Center LLC, sued the state this week, saying the decision was motivated by politics.

The 99 workers — moved from a handful of the governor's coordinating offices — were relocated in June. About 3,000 employees remain at State Center.

Baltimore lawmakers said they learned of the move this week.

A spokesman for Hogan, a Republican, said there are "absolutely no plans" to move any more employees from the State Center. Spokesman Doug Mayer said the move last summer does not signal broader plans about the future of the complex.

"There are no plans to move any state offices that are in Baltimore City currently outside of Baltimore City," he said.

Mayer said the governor's offices of children, of service and volunteerism and of community initiatives were moved to Crownsville to foster better collaboration.

They're now located in the former home of the Department of Housing and Community Development. That department moved to Prince George's County in 2015.

Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello, whose district includes State Center, said he wasn't told of the move. The Democrat wants a commitment from the governor that more jobs won't be moved.

"It validates some of the extremely grave concerns that I have about what is going on," Costello said. "I genuinely believe that the governor's plan is to move those jobs outside of the city."

Costello said the loss of more state workers would be "absolutely catastrophic" for the city.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson also said he was caught off guard by the news.

Even if the relocations make sense, the Baltimore Democrat said, he should have been informed.

Ferguson said he is worried about the governor's plans for the departments that remain.

"I'd say I'm still very concerned, particularly since I had no notice that the administration planned to pursue these relocations in the first place," he said. "The administration's quiet relocation of state agencies outside of the city without notice to communities seems unreasonably disruptive, regardless of the situation with State Center."

Ferguson's district does not include the State Center, but he has been an outspoken critic of the governor on issues relating to Baltimore.

"I want to believe that the administration had the best of intentions," he said. "Unfortunately, when we've consistently seen this administration forcefully withdraw planned public investments from Baltimore City, it is hard to believe there isn't some broader strategy at play."

Mayor Catherine Pugh is "anxious to keep every state employee in the city," a spokesman said. When Pugh, a Democrat, was a state senator, her district included the State Center.

"It's the mayor's hope that we are going to see a State Center facility in Baltimore City with the same number of state employees that we currently see housed in the city," spokesman Anthony McCarthy said.

State employees contribute to the city's tax base, he said, and keeping them is an "important priority."

Chris Coffey, a consultant working with the State Center development team, said the project was ready to advance, and would have ensured that the thousands of jobs now at the complex would remain in Baltimore.

"It may be 100 jobs [relocated] now," said Coffey, of Tusk Strategies. "But that's 100 jobs that are no longer in the community, no longer within Baltimore, and we really think it could be the tip of the iceberg."

Hogan has said he would instruct the Maryland Stadium Authority to fast-track a study of how to redevelop the State Center, and to consider whether building an indoor sports and concert arena would be feasible.

Mayer noted that lawyers for the developer said the litigation could "hold up the development of the site for a decade."

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Melissa Heuer