Bryan P. Sears//November 26, 2019
//November 26, 2019
Gov. Larry Hogan Tuesday morning announced a plan to redevelop an aging state government complex in west Baltimore currently the subject of litigation stemming from a previous redevelopment proposal.
Hogan said the state will move forward almost immediately with a new procurement process that will lead to the redevelopment of the State Center complex, which is home to a number of state agencies, including the Office of the Comptroller. The plan appears to mark the eventual end of state employees in the complex that borders Upton and Midtown.
“It’s not a plan to keep all of the agencies here,” said Hogan. “It’s not really what the neighborhood redevelopment wants to see.”
More than 3,300 state employees from a dozen departments and agencies work in the complex.
Hogan said the plan is so begin to solicit bids for a master developer for the project with the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Department of General Services, which is responsible for maintaining state facilities, taking the lead.
The state would also begin to relocate employees in phases. That relocation would absorb about 1 million square feet of office space in Baltimore’s central business district.
“The plan is to move the 12 agencies and the 3,300 employees to areas in and around the central business district, which will absorb and occupy more than 1 million square feet of office space and which will be a dramatic boost to help stabilize downtown Baltimore,” said Hogan. “The proximity of the State Center site to premier institutions including the University of Baltimore, and MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) and vibrant communities like Bolton Hill as well as its accessibility to transit options make this an ideal and attractive location for redevelopment and investment.”
The governor said a newly redeveloped State Center could include shopping, a grocery store and affordable housing options.
The first employees to be moved will be the 744 employees of the Department of Labor, which occupies about 182,000 square feet of office space. Other agencies will follow.
Len Foxwell, chief of staff to Comptroller Peter Franchot, applauded the announcement and called the State Center complex that is home to 325 people in 53,000 square-feet “embarrassingly dysfunctional and unfit for both public employees and the Maryland taxpayers we serve every day.” The site, he said, is ripe for redevelopment.
But Foxwwell said the comptroller is committed to remaining near the current site rather than moving downtown.
“Peter is thrilled by this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a highly accessible, secure and collaborative space that is fully responsive to the needs of a tax agency — and the customers who pay our salaries — in this advanced information age,” Foxwell said in a post on Facebook. “Finally, he wants this new center of government to be a catalyst for neighborhood renaissance and a good, trusted neighbor to residents and local businesses.”
Hogan described the redevelopment in glowing terms, saying it would be transformative and stabilizing for the city. Others said it would destabilize the surrounding neighborhood that was counting on a return of the state workforce.
“Today the governor announced the hollowing out of State Center,” said Michael Edney, a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright and lead counsel for developer State Center LLC. “By transferring every government agency out of State Center forever, he has broken the state’s decades-long commitment to the surrounding communities and to the city not to do so. ”
The governor vowed to work with city leaders and the surrounding communities on ensuring the redevelopment project fit their vision. Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young and legislators who represent the district where State Center is located and prominent community leaders were not present at the announcement.
Currently the state and developer State Center LLC are locked in a heated court battle stemming from Hogan’s move to cancel a $1.5 billion deal to redevelop the property. That deal predates the two-term Republican’s tenure in office.
Hogan Tuesday pulled no punches in characterizing the deal his administration canceled.
“Our repeated efforts to get this project moving for the citizens of Baltimore have been delayed over and over again by a group of developers and lawyers, motivated by greed, who have been seeking to extort state taxpayers to pay outrageous sums of monies for a deal which never materialized, never made any economic sense and was never going to happen,” said Hogan.
Hogan said the state’s attorney general had cleared the way for his administration to begin the next steps in redeveloping the site while the lawsuit continues in court.
Hogan’s surprise announcement follows a ruling by Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Dennis Sweeney. The memo issued a week ago orders the state to provide limited access to attorneys for the developer to more than 200 documents the state contended are protected by executive privilege.
“It is no coincidence that today’s surprise announcement comes days after the court ordered some transparency into what this governor was up to in canceling the State Center Project,” said Edney. “Citing allegations of ‘government misconduct,’ the court observed how the governor ‘abruptly reversed course’ on its ‘long-term partners.’ The midtown Baltimore community must feel the same way today, as it forever loses the government employees anchoring State Center. The governor is long on details for cleaning out State Center, but short on any description of the future.”