State Center project should go forward

The following article first appeared in the Baltimore Sun on Apr 21, 2016:

As a former Maryland Department of Transportation senior staff member, I am writing to support the State Center project ("Politicians, community groups press Hogan on State Center," March 21).

This project will transform an underdeveloped section of the city into a world-class business, entertainment and residential center. It will create, over time, tens of thousands of new jobs and tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenues and ground rents while eliminating the millions of dollars a year the state pays to maintain and operate the current campus.

The rub is whether the incremental state investment of several million dollars per year over current costs for the first phase is worth its substantial and persistent benefits to the state. In my view, the private sector will deliver benefits that dwarf those costs many times over.

Moreover, the state studied the suggested alternatives — and they all represent disaster scenarios. If the state moves out of the site, then it will become a massive blighting influence, and the relocation of state agencies to existing buildings will break up agencies and provide no new jobs, taxes or investment.

Perhaps more disappointingly, the state could do what it did in the 1950s and 1970s and squander a golden opportunity by spending several hundred million of citizens' hard-earned tax dollars to rebuild what is already there — a publicly owned economic dead zone that generates no new tax dollars, ground lease payments, businesses or anything else of value.

The public sector simply is not equipped to deliver economic growth of this type.

Finally, there is no private market for the site, and so suggestions that it could be sold and redeveloped without the state as the anchor tenant are fantasy. There is a reason why the nine surrounding communities unanimously support this project: They understand how bad the alternatives are.

That is why both the Ehrlich and O'Malley administrations went with the option of private redevelopment with the state as an anchor tenant. The state should get on with approving a project that was named one of the seven best in the world by the Congress for New Urbanism in 2010. Maryland shouldn't settle for a pathetic outcome; it should go for something great.

Christopher Patusky

Melissa Heuer