This article appeared in The Baltimore Sun on Sunday, March 18.
Maryland House sets goals for State Center project renewal, including Baltimore community input
By Michael Dresser
Legislation advancing in the House of Delegates would require neighborhood participation in any effort to revive the stalled redevelopment project at State Center in midtown Baltimore.
Delegates gave preliminary approval Saturday to a bill sponsored by Del. Cheryl Glenn spelling out the General Assembly’s goals for the 28-acre parcel, now occupied by a state government office complex whose more than 50-year-old buildings are in a poor state of repair.
If the measure passes the House as expected, likely on Monday, it will go to the Senate.
Plans for a mixed-use development at the site — including retail, residential and office space — date back to the administration of former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the early 2000s. A developer was chosen and plans approved under the administration of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.
But the start of construction was delayed for years by a lawsuit, filed by downtown Baltimore business interests who challenged the O’Malley administration’s developer selection process.
After Republican Gov. Larry Hogan took office in 2015, the Board of Public Works — of which Hogan is a member — put the more than $1 billion project on hold. The Hogan administration sought to oust the developer.
The state and developer are now suing each other in a standoff with no end in sight.
Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat, said she became concerned after learning that the administration had held talks with a Florida developer about the future of the site but had not involved neighborhood groups in the discussion.
“There was no outreach to the community,” she said. “Their voices were not heard at all.”
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said Glenn’s concerns are unfounded. The state can’t enter into any new development contract until the lawsuits are resolved, he said.
Mayer says Hogan still supports continued development of the project.
The legislation calls for any new State Center project to include state agencies as the lead tenant. It also requires retail stores, offices, restaurants, a high-quality grocery store, adequate parking and green space.
The bill also calls for plans to hire locally and to involve minority businesses in the project.
Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Catherine Pugh toured the stalled State Center development in Baltimore Thursday afternoon, lamenting the lack of progress at the site as a legal battle between the state and the company that planned to develop it rages on. (Luke Broadwater / Baltimore Sun)
Del. Sandy Rosenberg, the floor manager for the bill, said the goal is to make sure the State Center Alliance Inc. plays an active role in developing any plan to restart the project. The alliance is a multiracial coalition of nine neighborhood groups that has been working together for more than a decade to improve the State Center area.
“We wanted to further that effort,” the Baltimore Democrat said.
Rosenberg said the legislation does not interfere in the state’s lawsuit. He said the ultimate decisions about the project would be the responsibility of the state Board of Public Works.
Glenn said that if the administration failed to abide by the law, it would likely give citizens ground to sue.