A group of restaurant owners in Little Italy have joined a lawsuit that seeks to halt the $1.5 billion redevelopment of State Center, scheduled to be the subject of a hearing in Baltimore City Circuit Court on April 6.
Owners of Da Mimmo’s, Sabatino’s, Chiapparelli’s, Caesar’s Den and Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop filed a petition Monday to add their businesses to a list of more than a dozen downtown property owners suing the state to stop the project.
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 17, 2010, says the state Department of General Services did not seek competitive bids when it lined up master developers for the project in 2005.
The suit also claims that if the 15-year redevelopment moves forward as planned, creating 1.5 million square feet commercial and office space near Preston Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, it will negate the central business district and other city businesses, already struggling because of the recession with high vacancy rates.
Opponents of the State Center project also object to the sale of up to $314 million in tax increment financing bonds to help underwrite construction at the site. TIF bonds are taxpayer-backed financing for private development projects.
The addition of Little Italy business owners moves the argument to halt State Center east of the Inner Harbor.
“We’ve invested heavily in our restaurants and in this city,” said Mary Ann Cricchio, president of the Little Italy Restaurant Association and owner of Da Mimmo’s, in a statement.
“Downtown and Little Italy are already suffering enough in this economy. This ill-conceived project will only harm us and downtown more, not to mention wasting our tax dollars,” she said.
Maria Vaccaro, owner of the popular pastry shop on High Street, agreed.
“The state doesn’t have any money for what we need, but they want to build themselves expensive new buildings anyhow,” she said in a statement.
A hearing on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit is scheduled for early next month.
Caroline Moore, CEO of Ekistics LLC, the master developer of State Center, has said the lawsuit is without merit. The group filed a motion to dismiss in mid-January.
Moore did not return a phone call for comment Monday.
The State Center project was expected to break ground this year, but is on indefinite hold because of the lawsuit, a state economic development official said in January.