State Center advocates rally outside City Hall

Dozens of community leaders, lawmakers and city residents — frustrated by the stalled State Center redevelopment — rallied Monday outside City Hall, calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to move forward with the West Baltimore project.

State leaders in December voided contracts with a developer that underpinned a $1.5 billion plan to turn State Center, a 28-acre complex of state offices near North Eutaw Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, into a mix of residences, stores, offices and, possibly, a grocery store.

Hogan has said he is committed to seeing the site redeveloped and called on the Maryland Stadium Authority to conduct a study to evaluate other options for the site, including the possibility of locating an arena there.

The study has been approved by the stadium authority but has not yet started, said Michael Frenz, the authority's executive director. And the project is tied up in court after the state sued to affirm its right to void the contracts and developer State Center LLC has fought back.

The lack of movement has left advocates frustrated and concerned about the fate of a project they hoped would bring new energy to a site that is largely vacant outside work hours and be an important step toward revitalizing a long-neglected part of the city.

"The governor truly has an opportunity here to demonstrate that he's serious about economic development in Baltimore City," said City Councilman Eric Costello, whose district includes the project area. "My hope is he'll take that opportunity."

Costello said he is also concerned about what a change of plans could mean for the roughly 3,000 state jobs based at State Center. Last June, the state moved 99 workers from the Baltimore building to offices in Crownsville.

Mayor Catherine Pugh has said she is open to relocating the state jobs elsewhere in the city, but wants to see State Center redeveloped regardless.

On Monday, Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for the mayor, said Pugh is "looking forward to continuing conversations with the governor on the State Center project."

In a statement Monday, Hogan spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill reaffirmed Hogan's intentions to see the project through.

"Governor Hogan and the entire administration is completely committed to creating an exciting, vibrant, and functional development at the State Center site that will enrich the surrounding neighborhoods and the city as a whole," she said in a statement.

DeLeaver-Churchill said the developers are at fault for delaying progress and misleading the public.

Caroline Moore, the co-managing member of State Center LLC, doesn't see it that way.

"The only person standing in the way of this is Governor Hogan," Moore said.

Moore said she was encouraged by the rally.

At least 50 people gathered outside City Hall at 4 p.m. Monday, as rush-hour traffic began to build, with signs and stickers that read "Build a Better Baltimore! Build State Center!"

In addition to Costello, state senators Barbara Robinson and Richard Madaleno and state delegates, Antonio Hayes, Cheryl Glenn, Bilal Ali and Nick Mosby, addressed the crowd.

Representatives from 1000 Friends of Maryland, Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, Central Maryland Transportation Alliance and the State Center Neighborhood Alliance also spoke.

John Kyle, president of the State Center Neighborhood Alliance, which represents nine surrounding neighborhoods, said his group and others began working with the state on plans to redevelop State Center more than a decade ago and are eager to see progress.

"We were there before there was a developer because the state wanted to make sure the communities surrounding the project were on board from the very beginning," Kyle said. "Where we are today is a bunch of community residents who have worked hard to see some development in their neighborhood, have a grocery store, jobs, some life in the neighborhood beyond the 9-to-5 when state employees are there."

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

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