This article appeared on Baltimore Fishbowl on Thursday, March 1.
By Ethan McLeod
Baltimore’s City Council is pressuring state legislators and Gov. Larry Hogan to “protect the participation and planning process” for the nixed redevelopment proposal for the State Center government complex.
During a busy night for the Baltimore City Council on Monday, members also adopted a resolution calling on the General Assembly and governor to enact a bill, HB 1286, that would require any contract between the state and a chosen developer to meet the wishes of 12 community groups before any demolition and rebuilding of the aged State Center complex in Midtown.
The bill, proposed by Baltimore Del. Cheryl Glenn and co-sponsored by 19 others, would block any deal between the state and a private developer that doesn’t include the State Center Neighborhood Alliance’s input, meet the criteria of their 2016 community benefits agreement, or come with enforceable plans for local hiring and economic improvement that would boost minority- and women-owned enterprise in the area, among other criteria.
The bill most recently received a hearing in the House of Delegates’ Health and Government Operations Committee this afternoon.
Alliance president John Kyle, who could’’t be immediately reached for comment, said in a statement: “This resolution and this bill are great news for our neighborhoods. If the bill is enacted, we are confident that we will have a seat at the table for discussions and decisions about this vital redevelopment. That is right where we should be.”
The state and Baltimore-based developer Ekistics LLC entered into a partnership in 2005 to redevelop the 28-acre government complex off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. In 2009, they agreed on a $1.5 billion plan that would have transformed the area, which presently houses deteriorating 1950s-era government offices, into a mix of apartments, retail and government and commercial offices, with a full-sized grocery store at the former Fifth Regiment armory to boot.
But in December 2016, the State Board of Public Works, which includes Hogan, nixed the deal and moved to void the plan. The governor criticized it as “totally unworkable” and said it would create overly burdensome debt for the state. The state then sued State Center LLC, which includes Ekistics and other partners, to end the 2009 leases; State Center LLC filed a counterclaim seeking $100 million in damages and costs. The battle remains unresolved in court, which means the project also remains tied up.
The state is still seeking to repurpose the area, and commissioned a $79,000 study from a Florida-based consulting firm, which arrived at recommendations similar to what Ekistics had already been planning (though with a smaller grocery store and an additional gas station or fast food restaurant).
Ekistics then paid for its own study of the property, which found that the company’s original plan would still work as a solid commercial deal for the city and state.
Caroline Moore, CEO of Ekistics, wrote in an email Thursday–just as she said she was about to testify in support of HB 1286–that “the partnership we had with the community working in lockstep to develop the plan was critical to all the approvals that are now in place. Ultimately, this project was for the community and its input and involvement should always be considered no matter who is doing the project.”
Bill co-sponsor Del. Antonio Hayes said in a statement that “residents in the 40th District”—the one he represents—”would prefer economic development to proceed instead of authorizing, at the request of the Governor, a million dollar lawsuit.”
Asked to respond to the council’s resolution, Hogan spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill sent along a canned statement previously given to Baltimore Fishbowl: “As Governor Hogan has said repeatedly, the administration is committed to creating a vibrant and multi-use development at the State Center site. We remain fully committed to working with Mayor Pugh and community stakeholders to bring the full potential of this project to fruition for Baltimore City and its citizens.”
HB 1286 would require any developer that does meet the neighborhood alliance’s original terms to begin building within 18 months after signing a contract with the state.