The developer behind the embattled State Center redevelopment project has sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan asking him for a personal meeting.
The letter, signed by Caroline Moore, CEO of Ekistics LLC and co-managing member of State Center LLC, was scheduled to arrive on Monday. It argues that Hogan’s previous criticisms of the $1.5 billion proposal are contrary to a cost-benefit analysis provided to the state.
“At a time when State Center could be contributing to the city’s depleted tax base, we are instead wasting money on inactivity and a politically motivated lawsuit filed by the State against the development team. There is too much at stake for the community of West Baltimore, the entire city, and the state for us not to come together,” according to the letter.
Plans to redevelop the state office complex date to the administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich. Following a lengthy court battle that ended in 2014 the developer intended to begin work on the project.
But the state asked for modifications to the plan, Moore said, and it eventually ended up in mediation last July. After months of negotiations the process collapsed, and in December the Board of Public Works rescinded state leases for the development, essentially killing the project.
“The decision to move in a more positive and productive direction with the State Center project was a bipartisan one — made in unanimous fashion by Comptroller (Peter) Franchot, Treasurer (Nancy) Kopp, and Governor Hogan. No one, including these developers, are going to stop the governor and Mayor (Catherine) Pugh from redeveloping this site into something great for the local community, the city, and the state as a whole,” Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in an emailed statement.
In an interview on Friday, Moore said the developer was sued by the state and she disputed the assertion that State Center LLC was suing the state. Electronic court records show the developer has filed counterclaims to a state lawsuit in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
“There’s only one lawsuit filed in the courts, and we’re defendants in it,” Moore said.
She also said previous news coverage provided the impression that State Center LLC is the reason for delays in the proposed redevelopment.
Much of the blame for the slowdown prior to the mediation process, Moore said, rested with the Hogan administration.
“When Hogan came into the office we were understanding of his first General Assembly, of his Asian trip, of his cancer diagnosis and of the riots. And we were working with his folks all throughout, addressing his various and sundry wasted garden paths,” Moore said.
Moore during the interview challenged claims that the project was bad for the state. She cites an analysis done by commercial real estate services firm JLL that found the proposed public-private partnership provided “robust returns” to the city and state.
“We’ve tried to meet with the governor since his transition team came in, while (former Gov. Martin) O’Malley was still governor, and he has never once met with us, and we’re his partner. So not only did we do everything we could, and we’ve followed every agreement we signed, he sues us and doesn’t talk to us, and then says he wants to go forward with State Center,” she said. “So if he wants to go forward with State Center, and he wants it to be a mixed-use development, and he thinks Baltimore’s the (economic) engine of the state, and Maryland is open for business, don’t you have to ask yourself what is going on here?”
Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the project proposed by State Center LLC would’ve jeopardized the state’s bond rating. He also questioned if the project was a positive for the state why the O’Malley administration didn’t give the go-ahead for construction.
Even if an agreement was reached between the developer and the state, Mayer said, it represented a capital lease that must be approved by the Board of Public Works, which voted to terminate the leases 3-0 in a bipartisan vote. He also said the developers are simply disappointed they won’t be making money on the project.
“We don’t really care how much money they make or don’t make. We just want to get a project done,” Mayer said.