As Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Catherine Pugh toured the State Center complex on Thursday, a man in shorts smoking a cigar on the sidewalk in front of 300 W. Preston St. called out.
“Mayor, what happened to the State Center project?” the man asked.
As Pugh went to talk to the man Hogan called out: “That’s what we’re trying to get done. We’re tired of waiting.”
But the long-delayed redevelopment of the aging complex is no closer to happening than it was a year ago when the state and developer State Center LLC started mediation to reach an agreement to build the project. Now, locked in a legal battle in Baltimore City Circuit Court, the redevelopment of State Center is further from becoming a reality than it was last summer.
During a news conference following the short tour, Hogan placed the blame for the delay on the developer and the court fight. He also dismissed the idea that an agreement with State Center could be reached to get the $1.5 billion overhaul by State Center LLC back on track.
Hogan said the state had been hopeful its lawsuit and the developer’s countersuit could’ve been handled by July, but that the court battle could be settled by this fall. He also rejected the idea that State Center LLC and his administration could reach an agreement to allow that project to move forward.
“It’s not really about a deal that we can agree to. There were capital leases in there that were illegal for us to sign and they were unanimously rejected by the Board of Public Works,” he said. “The legislature doesn’t want to move forward with that plan, the Board of Public works voted against the plan and it’s illegal for us to do the plan, so it’s not going to happen.”
Hogan also said he wasn’t sure the idea of building an arena on the site, which is being studied by the state, is “a serious proposal,” but said it’s in the mix of options being explored.
In an emailed statement State Center LLC portrayed the mayor and governor as not having a plan to overhaul State Center while the developer is ready to begin on the redevelopment.
“While the Governor and Mayor claim they want to bring economic development to Baltimore and redevelop the State Center complex, they still don’t have a clear plan on how to move forward. As the Governor prepares to spend nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to cancel this project, we sit ready to get started with contracts and plans more than a decade in the making,” according to the developer.
Legal jockeying between the State Center LLC and the Hogan administration dates back to the summer of 2016 when both sides entered mediation in an attempt to reach an agreement that would allow for the development to move forward. Eventually the mediation process broke down and the developer blamed the state for rejecting an agreement that retired U.S. District Judge Frederic Smalkin offered during mediation.
In December, the Board of Public Works voted to cancel leases for the proposed $1.5 billion development, basically killing plans to redevelop the site. Hogan, at that time, then ordered the Maryland Stadium Authority to fast-track a study examining the feasibility of building a new arena on the site.
The state then sued the developer seeking a finding that state leases were invalid and unenforceable. State Center LLC countersued seeking to compel the state to go ahead with the development and argued the state’s decision violated a 30-day cooling-off period between the two parties.
Following the filing of the lawsuit both sides have taken swipes at one another in attempt to sway public opinion.
State Center LLC held a job fair at the site to show local support for the project, launched a radio ad campaign accusing the governor of waging “war” on Baltimore and publicly pleaded for a meeting with Hogan. The Hogan administration, in turn, portrayed State Center LLC as a money-hungry developer paying a Washington-based attorney to help it profit off state taxpayers.
In June, during a hearing in Baltimore City Circuit Court on a motion to compel the state to turn over documents, the developer’s attorney Michael Edney, accused Hogan of violating his client’s exclusive development rights by ordering a fast-tracked study of building an arena on the site. Assistant Attorney General John Kuchno disagreed with Edney’s assertion, calling it “just wrong.”
Legal issues are nothing new to the State Center project. Plans to redevelop the site in the city’s Madison Park neighborhood date back to former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s time as governor.
A lawsuit backed by prominent attorney Peter Angelos challenging the selection of a developer delayed the overhaul for years. But in 2014 the Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiffs waited too long to challenge the procurement process.