Pugh: State Center offices to Metro West a ‘possibility’

The following article first appeared in the Daily Record on Feb 6: 

Mayor Catherine Pugh said she’s had conversations with developers about potential alternatives to the current redevelopment plans for State Center, including whether Metro West might be a viable option.

During a wide-ranging interview on Thursday, Pugh discussed her position on the long-stalled
redevelopment of a state office complex in the city’s Madison Park community and potential
locations for a new building to keep those state jobs in the city.

Pugh said she’s had conversations with developer Caves Valley Partners, which bought the vacant 1.1-million-square-foot Metro West complex in downtown’s Westside with a $7.1 million bid roughly a year ago, about the potential for that project becoming home to workers currently at State Center.

Relocating the state offices to an overhauled Metro West is “a possibility,” Pugh said, but added “everything is on the table.” Employees of Caves Valley Partners supported Pugh’s mayoral campaign publicly and financially.

Arthur Adler, managing partner at Caves Valley Partners, said during an event in June celebrating firm’s purchase of Metro West that redevelopment efforts on that site would not start until his firm identified a lead tenant. In an email late last month, Adler wrote there was nothing new to disclose regarding the status of the Metro West redevelopment.

On Monday, Adler appeared quite receptive to Metro West as an option for the relocation of
current State Center offices.

“We agree that Metro West on the west side of Baltimore City is a very viable site for large-scale
office uses and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the Governor and the Mayor to find the desired outcome if they decide Metro West can be part of the solution,” he said in an email.

Pugh, who as a state senator represented the area where the 28-acre State Center is located,
said the battle over redeveloping the site has dragged on long enough.

She made it clear to Gov. Larry Hogan, Pugh said, that state jobs should remain in Baltimore whether that involves redevelopment of the current location or a new site.

“I want a building that says, ‘State Center’ in Baltimore, and I want the 3,000 some odd people who work there — many of them who live in Baltimore — to still be in Baltimore, and whether that is in downtown Baltimore, or in a building that is built specifically for that, I want that,” Pugh said. “And I’ve said to the governor, ‘I want a building that says, ‘State Center Baltimore.’”

Pugh, who maintains a cordial relationship with the governor, declined to criticize the Board of Public Works’ decision in December to cancel lease agreements for future office space at the 28-acre campus. Her spokesman, in an email responding to questions about whether Pugh supported the board’s decision, simply restated the mayor’s support for a State Center project in Baltimore and that she’s communicated that to the governor.

The developer, State Center LLC, issued a statement on arguing the mayor should be upset about the potential impact the loss of the development could have on the city’s economy.

“Not only should the Mayor be worried about the jobs that are draining out of State Center as we speak, but there should be a universal outcry for the loss of $1.5 billion in private investment for West Baltimore,” Chris Coffey, a representative of State Center LLC, said in an emailed statement.

The planned overhaul of State Center from a cluster of outdated office buildings into a massive mixed-use transit oriented development dragged on for years. Initial plans to redevelop the campus date to former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s administration, and he left office more than a decade ago.

The project stalled for years because of a legal challenge, bankrolled by attorney Peter G. Angelos, to the process the state used to select a developer. In early 2014, the Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that plaintiffs waited too long to challenge the procurement process.

It was expected the court’s decision would result in the redevelopment of State Center starting. But in July the developer and the state started a mediation process to reach an agreement about how to proceed with the project. Eventually, the mediation, which was supposed to be a 30-day process but which dragged out for months, failed.

The latest twist in the ongoing saga has pitted the state — the redevelopment’s lead tenant — against the project’s developer in a court battle.

State Center LLC and the state both filed lawsuits in Baltimore City Circuit Court following the Board of Public Works December decision that essentially killed the redevelopment proposal.

State Center LLC, despite the Board of Public Works’ decision and the legal battles, still holds out hope the project will proceed as planned. The planned unit development guiding the project allows for up to 2 million square feet of office space, 250,000 square feet or retail and 2,000 residential units at the site across North Howard Street from the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Supporters of the redevelopment continue to apply public pressure on elected officials to go ahead with the development even as the battle continues in court.

Backers have scheduled a community meeting on Wednesday at 11 a.m., at Union Baptist Church, 1219 Druid Hill Ave., to discuss the “food desert” in the area, and the desire for a grocery store to move into the Fifth Regiment Armory located on the property. Turning the armory into a grocery store was a major part of State Center LLC’s redevelopment proposal.

Melissa Heuer