Minority and women-owned contracting and service businesses have earned $64 million in contracts at The New East Baltimore redevelopment project so far, officials of East Baltimore Development Inc. said Tuesday.
At a forum held at Morgan State University by U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., a crowd of about 80, many representing minority contracting companies and some individuals looking for work, were updated on the nation’s largest urban redevelopment project, a projected $1.8 billion effort in Middle East.
“This is not a product, it’s a project,” Cummings said in his opening remarks. “It is evolving and affects people’s lives in every way.”
The contractors were called together to learn of possibilities for new work at the development entering its second decade. So far, the project has cost $564 million, $212.6 million in public funds.
John Lecker, vice president of development for Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, the master developer of the site, said that over the next three years, the project on 88 acres north of the Johns Hopkins Hospital will evolve to include a new lab building for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, a 321-unit residential tower for Johns Hopkins graduate students, a 150-room hotel and a 1,400-space parking garage.
|Watch video from the forum|
The plans outlined Tuesday did not include any life sciences buildings. The project’s original master plan called for five biotech buildings. Only one has been built.
“It is clear how hard many people are working in a very difficult time … and I think we’re achieving success,” Lecker told those in attendance. “I think we’re on the right path.”
The $60 million graduate student housing tower and the $20 million parking garage, expected to break ground later this year, will bring 425 construction jobs to the site and a total of 25 permanent jobs, said Cynthia Swisher, chief financial officer of EBDI.
“The grad student tower will bring an estimated 575 students into the community adding to the demand for retail including a future grocery store,” Swisher said.
Meanwhile, City Councilman Carl Stokes issued a statement Tuesday calling for more answers and transparency involving the massive redevelopment project.
“Our high hopes and expectations for this important project remain firm however given the economic realities being faced by the city of Baltimore and the entire nation, it’s important that everyone involved in this process is as transparent as possible,” said Stokes, who represents part of the affected area and is a nonvoting member of the board of EBDI, the nonprofit created to spearhead the project.
“That includes having all internal and independent audits made public, my committee asking the tough questions and allowing EBDI the opportunity to respond, “ Stokes concluded.
Stokes introduced a resolution approved unanimously by the Baltimore City Council calling a series of investigatory hearings on EBDI before the council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee. The first hearing is set for March 30.
The council acted after The Daily Record published a series detailing problems and issues with the project’s goals for job creation, new housing, biotech development and its finances.
Sheila A. Dixon, the city’s former mayor who is now a representative for the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, said during the forum at Morgan State that many small contractors are being squeezed out of large construction contracts and bidding because criteria are too strict and often secretive.
“Why don’t you have an open bid?” Dixon asked, citing a blind bidding process where contractors are unable to view the paperwork of competitors. “You’ve really got to reach out further.”
Dixon also said change orders in some of EBDI’s large contracts have eliminated small minority contracting companies — which she said often was “intentionally done to eliminate” them from site work.
“There are work order changes and time order changes,” she said, adding that such shifts often doom the smaller companies because they operate with very tight margins and cannot afford to change their original bids.
Cheryl Washington, EBDI’s director of community and human services, called that a “policy issue” that she pledged to address in the near future.
Cummings said, “My mama often said, ‘There’s nothing like a person who don’t know what they don’t know.’ Some things may be remedied very easily.”