The Maryland Department of Health is planning to move its headquarters into the south building of the Metro West complex near Lexington Market.
The Board of Public Works has added the planned move to its agenda and could approve the contract at a hearing later this month. According to the agenda, the state agency will pay more than $12 million annually to lease nearly 500,000 square feet at Metro West.
Metro West is a 1.1-million-square-foot complex near Lexington Market and stretches two blocks along North Greene Street, with a pedestrian bridge over West Mulberry Street. The Department of Health is already leasing a parking garage at the complex, using it as a makeshift morgue for the State Medical Examiner’s Office, which had been working through a backlog of cases earlier this year.
Chase Cook, a spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Health, said the proposed move could affect about 1,200 employees. He declined to comment further.
The sprawling property has been vacant since 2014, when the Social Security Administration moved to new offices in Baltimore County. Towson-based Caves Valley Partners bought Metro West from the federal government at an auction in 2016 for $7.1 million.
Together with B&B Realty, Caves Valley Partners will lease the building through an LLC called Greene Street Ventures.
“With over a thousand employees, the Department of Health offices will bring vibrancy to Baltimore’s Westside, provide a large customer base to the newly built Lexington Market and, hopefully, create a gateway to revitalize portions of West Baltimore by soon eliminating the failed Highway to Nowhere,” Greene Street Ventures said in a statement Monday.
The “Highway to Nowhere,” built in 1979, is the remnant of what was supposed to be a connection between Interstate 70 and downtown Baltimore. The partially built highway instead carries traffic on U.S. 40 in West Baltimore. The city’s Democratic leaders and representatives in Congress have talked about using federal money to help get rid of it.
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Caves Valley Partners declined to comment further on plans for Metro West, which would still have more than 600,000 square feet of space available after the health department moves in. State lobbying reports show Caves Valley Partners paid $22,500 this year to lobbyists from Perry White Ross to advocate with the state government on matters related to real property.
According to the Board of Public Works agenda, the state would have a 15-year lease, starting in 2024, that could be changed or canceled after 10 years. The state would pay about $12.1 million annually, which converts to $26.20 per square foot. That rate would increase 2.5% each year.
Opened in 1980, the Metro West complex was constructed to house as many as 6,000 workers with the idea of injecting new life into the area. It held about 1,600 employees at the time Social Security left, creating what then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, described as “a big, gaping, vacant hole.”
It’s two blocks from historic Lexington Market, Baltimore’s largest public market, which has operated in the area since 1782. The East Market building, which had been the market’s main home for the last 70 years, closed at the end of summer; a new market building is expected to open soon with more than 30 vendors.
The 12-block move by the state health department would put it closer to the medical examiner’s office, which is in West Baltimore, across Martin Luther King Boulevard from the west side of downtown. It would also be near the University of Maryland Medical Center and the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which are on North Greene Street, as well.
The Maryland Department of Health is located at the State Center complex, a group of aging state-owned office buildings near Midtown. There had long been discussions about the idea of renovating State Center, but Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said in April 2021 that the state would move thousands of employees from a dozen agencies into office space elsewhere in Baltimore.
Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford announced in late August that the state would turn State Center over to the city of Baltimore for redevelopment.