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C. Fraser Smith: Angelos preparing to oppose Harbor Point?

Get ready, Baltimore, for a battle of the titans.

Harbor Point

The Harbor Point project would contain Exelon Corp.’s headquarters as the centerpiece of a $1 billion development.

Peter Angelos, principal owner of the Orioles and a major player in downtown redevelopment, is said to be preparing a lawsuit designed to stop or delay the controversial $1.1 billion Harbor Point project.

If so, he would once again be opposing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Gov. Martin O’Malley, both of whom support the latest feature of Baltimore’s magnetic Inner Harbor.

Harbor Point is to be the new home of Exelon Corp., the power giant that would move into a 23-story office building there. Other office space is planned for the site, along with small parks and a promenade that would link the Inner Harbor with Fells Point.

Indirectly at least, such a suit could put Angelos at odds with John Paterakis, the baker and development entrepreneur who engineered Harbor East, a striking bit of urban neighborhood building on land that was barren for years.

Harbor Point is to be built over more than a decade by Harbor Point Development Group LLC and its president, Michael S. Beatty. Beatty was Paterakis’ partner in Harbor East, but at a recent press conference, Beatty said Paterakis is not involved in the Exelon project.

The project has the potential to pull even more businesses away from a center city area already hemorrhaging tenants.

Angelos may also be chafing at the sight of so much governmental effort directed at the city’s East Side.

A well-informed source says Angelos is looking for an expert on environmentally challenging sites to study the 28-acre Harbor Point project land. It would be built on property once heavily contaminated by chromium waste and other toxic materials.

Rawlings-Blake recently hailed the project as an example of brownfield recovery — the remediation and reuse of property once thought to be beyond recovery as a result of original uses.

Once owned by Allied Chemical, the property is now owned by Honeywell, which spent about $100 million to cover the toxic waste with a concrete dome.

Still, questions have arisen: Would pilings have to be driven through the dome to anchor new buildings? Would that allow release of poisonous materials? Would some danger be posed for people in nearby houses and hotels, not to mention people working in the new buildings?

Presumably questions of this sort have been answered or the project would not have proceeded this far. That approval could, of course, be challenged in court.

Angelos has been able to stop projects with similarly vexing questions in the past. He successfully attacked the process used to find a developer for renewal of the state’s office complex on Preston Street in Northwest Baltimore.

In addition to the procedural issues he raised, Angelos and others made clear they were aggrieved by the state’s decision to develop new office space, even as 2 million square feet of space was vacant and presumably available downtown. The state should have moved some of its offices into these vacant spaces, they suggested.

Neither Angelos nor a spokesman was available to discuss his plans, but various players in development circles have been waiting for the Angelos shoe to drop if only because he has sued in other similar matters.

In an op-ed article for The Sun several months ago, Rawlings-Blake suggested that Baltimore would be better off if there was “less suing and more doing.”

City tax benefits amounting to more than $106 million have not yet been approved by the City Council. There will be considerable pressure to vote “Yes” because the project has forecast 6,000 new jobs, including 1,000 construction jobs.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.