Study recommends offices, retail, park for State Center in Baltimore, but not an arena

A study of options for the stalled redevelopment of State Center in Baltimore envisions a range of ideas for the site, including apartments, a small park, commercial offices, retail shops or a grocery store.

But putting a sports and entertainment arena there ranks low as a potential option for the site, according to the state-ordered study that was released Tuesday morning.

State Center is a 28-acre property north of downtown that includes the 5th Regiment Armory and aging government office buildings. The area along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard has long been eyed for redevelopment, potentially opening a path for the affluence of downtown Baltimore to spread into impoverished neighborhoods in West Baltimore.

But redevelopment plans that originated under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. calling for a mixed-use project with new state offices, residences and retail have stalled over the past decade. Gov. Larry Hogan and the state Board of Works canceled a contract with the private developer that had been selected, Ekistics LLC. The state and the developer are now tied up in litigation as Hogan seeks a fresh start for the site.

Hogan directed the Maryland Stadium Authority to conduct a land-use study about options for the State Center site. Meanwhile, a separate study is evaluating whether an arena would work at the site, an idea that’s been suggested by Comptroller Peter Franchot. That study has not yet been made public.

The study offers the following suggestions:

--A Department of Labor building could be torn down or turned into apartments or “row-type housing.”

--Parking lots adjacent to the Department of Labor building could become a park.

--Department of Health and Comptroller buildings could be used for commercial or mixed-use activities such as retail shops, restaurants, medical offices, senior living or mid-rise apartments.

--The “central plant” area of the property could be used for retail shops, offices or a grocery store.

--Footbridges could be built to help people cross busy Howard Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to reach the site.

The prior redevelopment plan for State Center included having the state government continue to use space there for state agencies, but the new study doesn’t expressly discuss options for how much space the state government might use or how many state employees could continue to work there.

The governor released the study in advance of a hearing with state lawmakers on the status of State Center planned for Tuesday afternoon.

Caroline Moore, lead developer of the State Center project for Ekistics, criticized the need for the study.

“State Center was planned with the community, by the community and for the community. No study was needed — particularly at taxpayers’ expense — to reaffirm what we learned over a decade ago,” she said in a statement.

The study ranked an arena as a “low” probability as a potential use on the site, but did not explain why. Elsewhere, the study noted the existence of another arena — the Royal Farms Arena downtown — within one mile of the site.

Other uses that ranked “low” include big-box stores, a shopping mall, large office buildings, a hotel, detached housing, a movie theater and a performing arts venue.

The study recommended that the state complete further studies, solicit input from residents in surrounding neighborhoods and issue a request for information to solicit ideas from developers.

In a statement, Hogan said he remains “fully committed” to developing State Center.

The governor criticized the ousted developers, who he said “have sought to force the state to pay outrageous sums for leases that weren’t executed and who have failed in their commitments to the state, and more importantly, the citizens of Baltimore City.”

The study was conducted by Crossroads Consulting Services and Valbridge Property Advisors for the Maryland Stadium Authority.

pwood@baltsun.com

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