Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

If mediation fails, State Center headed back to court

If the State Center developer and its tenant, the state of Maryland, can’t bridge their differences during mediation the next place they’ll meet is a courtroom.

A day before mediation is set to begin on Thursday, Caroline Moore, CEO of Ekistics LLC, a managing member of State Center LLC, portrayed the first phase of the proposed $1.5 billion development as ready to begin construction. But Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, according to her, is dragging its feet making decisions and thus delaying the start of the project.

“We really haven’t got a decision out of [Hogan] on what he really wants to do,” Moore said.

Retired U.S. District Judge Frederic Smalkin will oversee mediation. Meetings are scheduled to take place during the next 30-days. If that process isn’t “fruitful, focused and sincere,” Moore said the project will end up “in litigation immediately.”

Moore said she doesn’t want the project to be tied up in court again, calling that possibility “ridiculous.” Progress on State Center was already delayed for years by a lawsuit from a group of downtown businesses and property owners — partially funded by Peter G. Angelos — challenging the procurement process used to select a developer. The Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in early 2014 that opponents waited too long to challenge that decision.

The biggest hurdle to the project breaking ground is the state’s indecision over how it wants to proceed with an underground garage at the site, Moore said. The garage is the only portion of the development controlled by the state. Because the garage would be built under a mixed-use office and retail building, construction can’t move forward until the state has a design that fits its budget.

Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said it would be inappropriate to discuss details regarding the pending mediation, but vehemently denied allegations the administration was slowing down the project. He said the governor remains 100 percent committed to the redevelopment of State Center.

“That is a gross misrepresentation of the facts and the idea someone would put that out there is an embarrassment,” Mayer said.

Previously, members of the Hogan administration expressed concerns about the projects’ affordability. A Department of General Services analysis in late 2014 also raised questions about the project’s impact on Maryland’s capital and operating budgets. The proposal, which aims to replace dilapidated state offices along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard where Mount Vernon and west Baltimore converge, dates back to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s administration.

In recent months local pressure on the state to move forward with the project has been ramping up. In March, residents and the developer signed a community development agreement laying out the role of nearby neighborhoods in shaping the project. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake last month said State Center remains her top redevelopment priority.

Moore made it clear she was growing eager to get the project, which has been more than a decade in the making, underway. The first phase of development calls for 585,000 square feet of office and retail space. The state would lease 515,000 square feet for four government agencies, and 70,000 square feet of private commercial office and retail space would also available. The Planned Unit Development guiding building on the site allows for a maximum of 2 million square feet of office, 250,000 square feet of retail and 2,000 residential units.

“We are ready to start construction. This isn’t half-baked. This is fully baked,” Moore said.