Ed Hale

Ed Hale (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun / October 21, 2013)

Ed Hale wants to buy the Baltimore Arena, but the city said the aging facility is not for sale.

Two years after his departure from First Mariner Bancorp, the bank he launched and turned into the city's largest, Hale finds himself on the outside looking in.

These days Hale operates out of a windowless office decorated with black-and-white photos of the port of Baltimore in a nondescript Rosedale office park. It's a far cry from his one-time office in a 17-story Canton tower with a commanding view of the harbor.

Hale doesn't know why he has a poor relationship with City Hall, though he called the current administration "thin-skinned." He also said he was not forced out of the bank by a group of New York investors.

And he doesn't want anyone feeling sorry for him. Ed Hale is doing well — especially financially, he said. He's made a handsome profit on real estate investments in Canton and hopes to sell nearly 3 acres near the new Shops at Canton Crossing to a developer that could build 500 apartments.

The 66-year-old said he misses some aspects of banking, but not the frequent meetings with regulators.

"I miss the people, the esprit de corps that we had," he said. "We were a tour de force in terms of being a local bank."

A trucking magnate turned banker, Edwin F. Hale Sr. launched First Mariner in 1995, building the subsidiary, 1st Mariner Bank, into the largest independent bank in Baltimore. It ran into trouble during the housing crisis, he said, after the bank was forced to buy back soured mortgages it sold to Wall Street firms and lost about $60 million on the loans.

Federal regulators ordered First Mariner in 2009 to come up with more capital — something the company has struggled to do. In 2011, it struck a deal with New York-based Priam Capital, which offered $36.4 million for a 25 percent stake in the company — but only if First Mariner could raise $123.6 million from other sources.

The deal was announced along with Hale's resignation, which was to occur once the transaction was completed. Hale left before that in December 2011. First Mariner never raised the money and dropped out of its agreement with Priam last year.

Banking experts and reports on Hale's departure stated that Priam required that Hale step down as part of the deal, but Hale said that's not true and now he wants to set the record straight.

"I have a lot of pride in what I did," Hale said. "There was no way I was going to have some New York private equity firm force me out."

Hale said he resigned as chairman and CEO as part of a tax-planning strategy after recognizing a big gain on the sale of property. To eliminate the tax bill, he opted to sell 1 million shares of First Mariner stock at a loss to offset the real estate gains. However, a First Mariner policy required Hale to step down if he wanted to sell the shares. First Mariner declined to comment.

"It was my own choice. If I knew I could sell the stock and stay there, I would still be there today," he said.

Asked why he waited so long to correct the record, Hale said, "I didn't feel the need to do it, but it kept going on and on and on. People would randomly come up to me and say, 'Poor Ed, it's a shame you're not there.' I just felt like I wanted to set the record straight on a whole host of things."

The timing seemed right, he said, because of the recent opening of the Shops at Canton Crossing.

A dozen years ago, Canton Crossing was just a vision by Hale to build a $100 million complex that included an office tower, condominiums, restaurants and stores on contaminated waterfront property at Boston and Clinton streets. Hale owned 22 acres at the location with a contract to purchase 31 more.

The toxic waste was cleaned up and a 17-story office tower sprang up that became home to First Mariner as well as Hale, who occupied the penthouse.

"Before Ed came along and focused on that site, no one had a vision of what that was going to become," said Doug Schmidt, a principal with Chesapeake Real Estate Group, one of the developers of the Shops at Canton Crossing. "It was his force of will and personality to get a major office tower built on that old industrial site."

Hale also wants to set the record straight on the sale of the office tower, which was on the verge of foreclosure after a lender said he defaulted on an $84 million loan. This occurred during the credit crisis, Hale said, and he couldn't secure permanent financing for the project.