Legal battle over State Center redevelopment to continue Monday

The following article appeared on the Baltimore Business Journal's website on Friday, June 23.

Legal battle over State Center redevelopment to continue Monday

By Holden Wilen

The Baltimore City Circuit Court will hold a hearing Monday and make a decision on a request by the developer of the State Center redevelopment asking Gov. Larry Hogan's administration to provide information about why it nixed the project.

State Center LLC, the would-be firm behind the $1.5 billion redevelopment of the Midtown Baltimore site, asked Hogan's administration through a court motion to provide documents in discovery regarding its basis for terminating the project last December. A master development agreement was signed in 2009 with Ekistics LLC, led by Caroline Moore.

The developer says Hogan's administration is playing politics and using "delay tactics" to withhold information about its internal decision-making process because it asked the court to deny the motion until the court rules on a separate motion that would end the legal battle before it goes to trial.

The developer and the state have been locked in a legal battle since December, when the Maryland Board of Public Works voted to kill the redevelopment project, which would have turned the 28-acre state office complex off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard into 2,000 residential units, retail and 2 million square feet of office space.

State Center LLC also filed public information acts requests with the state, but says they were denied because the documents are part of pending litigation.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said in an email the state offered to produce the "thousands of documents" but the developer never responded to the offer.

The developer tried to use the public information laws "to subvert the legal discovery process," Mayer added.

"As you probably know, requesting voluminous documents during a court case is a run-of-the-mill tactic designed to drive up costs and generally waste the other party's time," Mayer said.

In its motion, the developer says the state's efforts are "nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to cloak it's decision-making process in secrecy" and further delay the project.

"It is simply a delay tactic driven by the political implications of this case," the developer said in court documents. "Even though the State rushed into court to file this suit, it has deliberately attempted to slow down this litigation through motions practice so that this dispute is not resolved — and the State Center project remains on hold — until the 2018 gubernatorial election has come and gone."

In the meantime, State Center LLC says Midtown residents will continue to wait for much-needed economic development and state workers will continue to work in subpar conditions in the old, dilapidated offices.

Michael Edney, an attorney representing the developer, said the government has obligations to the public and that residents deserve to know why Hogan's administration made its decision.

To date, Hogan's brief comments at the Board of Public works meeting in December offer the only insight into why he scrapped the project.

Hogan called the redevelopment project a "bad deal" for the state because its lease agreements with the developer would have a detrimental impact on the state's debt affordability and required approval from the General Assembly. Now, he is exploring building an arena at the site.

Edney said the Hogan administration is hoping the issue "fades in people's memories." He said he has not seen a summary for judgment brought so early in a case, unless discovery is dragging on and the parties in the case have reached an agreement.

"That's not where we are here," Edney said. "They are not even sitting down with us...The only way to solve this issue is to put all of the documents out in the open and have a debate about the legal consequences.


Caroline Moore