This article appeared on Baltimore Fishbowl on Thursday, January 24, 2018.
Lead Developer of Nixed State Center Project Criticizes New Study on Redevelopment Options
By Ethan McLeod
Speaking to state lawmakers on Tuesday, shortly after the release of a new study on the future redevelopment potential of Baltimore’s State Center complex, developer Caroline Moore blasted the Hogan administration for gutting her firm’s $1.5 billion redevelopment project and commissioning a study whose recommendations were similar to her company’s years-old plan.
“I hope the project gets done, and I hope it doesn’t take another 10 years to figure out that it needed to get done 20 years ago,” said Moore at a joint hearing before the Maryland House Appropriations and Economic Matters committees. Moore’s firm, Ekistics, was planning to break ground on its own much-awaited redevelopment project at State Center in 2017, until Hogan’s administration cancelled Ekistics’ seven-year-old leases on the 28-acre Midtown property in December 2016.
Hours before the hearing, Crossroads Consulting Services released findings from its $79,000, state-commissioned study on redevelopment options for State Center, which is situated at the corner of W. Preston Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The firm found:
- Buildings currently housing the Department of Health and State Comptroller’s offices would be well suited for multi-tenant retail, mid-rise medical offices or an outpatient facility, senior living, or mid-rise residential apartments;
- The Department of Labor building could be converted into apartments or possibly “row type housing,” with the parking lots outside of it becoming a “linear park”;
- The land adjacent to the Fifth Regiment Armory could be a 25,000-square-foot “freestanding grocery,” or a 55,000-square-foot mixed-retail center;
- The corner of Eutaw Street and MLK Jr. Boulevard could hold a convenience store or gas station;
- and that State Center is “somewhat of an island” that would require a pedestrian footbridge in one of three proposed locations.
Moore told lawmakers in Annapolis that the findings from Crossroads’ study weren’t all that different from the plan that Ekistics worked out with the Ehrlich administration in the early 2000’s, and later finalized in leases awarded by the O’Malley administration in 2009. (She did note that a planned Harris Teeter grocery store was much larger at 80,000 square feet.)
“At the end of the day, what this project was about was delivering a grocery store in a food desert, jobs to communities that have been forgotten – and for a generation that hasn’t been invested in,” Moore said, “and a main street that addressed the neighborhood amenity needs to make all of these neighborhoods thrive.”
Last winter, Gov. Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp voted to end the leases signed in 2009 so that Hogan’s administration could find a new developer for the property. Hogan argued that the $1.5 billion plan would incur too much debt for the state and was “totally unworkable.”
Instead, he said he would commission a study to explore the potential for new sports arena for Baltimore at the site. The state hired Crossroads for the effort, and later expanded the scope of the study for other potential uses last spring.
The state sued the developers to end the leases, and State Center LLC, representing Ekistics and other investors on the project, countersued. At Tuesday’s hearing, lawmakers grilled officials from the Department of General Services and Maryland Stadium Authority, which commissioned the study, on the state’s budgeting for the legal fight.
Del. Brooke Lierman, 46th District–Baltimore City, noted the state “threw the first shot” by suing, and that the Hogan administration has budgeted $1 million ($900,000, actually) to pay a private law firm.
She and Del. Cheryl Glenn, 45th District–Baltimore City, also asked whether General Services and stadium authority officials had spoken with residents from the surrounding neighborhoods. Glenn mentioned nine community associations had “already decided what would be best for State Center” in their previous agreement with Ekistics.
Interestingly, an arena did not get high marks as a potential redevelopment option in Crossroads’ study. A table lists an arena as a “low” potential option, alongside a bowling alley, amphitheater, an arts venue or a hotel of any size.
In a statement Tuesday, Hogan criticized Ekistics, saying the developer and other parties in the case “have sought to force the state to pay outrageous sums for leases that weren’t executed and who have failed in their commitments to the state, and more importantly, the citizens of Baltimore City.”
Of Crossroads’ findings, he said, “This study has reinforced our long-held position that the State Center site has an enormous amount of potential for redevelopment.”