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State board approves moving Maryland Department of Health to Metro West complex near Lexington Market

The Maryland Board of Public Works voted Wednesday to approve a new 15-year lease for the state Department of Health to move into the vacant Metro West complex.

The health department is housed nearby in State Center, and the pending move is part of a broader plan by Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration to move agencies out of that aging complex of state-owned buildings and into leased buildings closer to the city’s core.

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The move will take place in 2024 and affect about 1,200 employees. Metro West is a 1.1-million-square-foot complex just north of Lexington Market that stretches two blocks along North Greene Street, with a pedestrian bridge over West Mulberry Street.

The federal government spent about $92 million building Metro West for the Social Security Security Administration. The complex opened in 1980 but has sat vacant since 2014 when the agency left. Two years later, Towson-based Caves Valley Partners bought Metro West from the federal government at auction for $7.1 million.

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Together with B&B Realty, Caves Valley Partners are seeking tenants for the building through an LLC called Greene Street Ventures.

The Maryland Department of Health will be the first tenant in Metro West in a decade, paying more than $12.1 million annually to lease approximately 500,000 square feet, which is a little less than half of the available space there.

There had been a $1.5 billion plan to redevelop State Center and add commercial and residential space. The complex of buildings was built in the 1950s. Hogan’s administration nixed the controversial deal in 2016, citing its high cost.

In April 2021, Hogan said the state would move 3,500 employees from a dozen agencies there into office space elsewhere in the city.

The Board of Public Works, which oversees state spending, is made up of Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Dereck Davis. When the Metro West lease was discussed briefly at October’s meeting, Davis expressed minor concerns about its details.

On Tuesday, the board approved the lease without discussion.

Earlier this month, the union representing many of the health department’s workers voiced their opposition to the move. Pat Moran, president of the Maryland council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said he had concerns about the state of Metro West because it’s been vacant for eight years. He also said State Center, located about a mile north, was a better location with better access to public transportation.

“Instead of driving funds toward expensive private buildings … the administration should be investing in state offices and worksites,” Moran said.

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On Tuesday, Fred Arena, the managing partner of Vision Properties, sent a letter to the Board of Public Works, urging the panel to reconsider the move.

Vision Properties had tried to lure the state health department to its building at 100 E. Pratt St. in the Inner Harbor. Arena declined to disclose details of the firm’s bid, but he noted that Hogan had promised to move state employees into Baltimore’s central business district.

Metro West is not located in the central business district and is actually “on the periphery of downtown,” Arena wrote.

The health department and its 1,200 employees could have sparked a revitalization of the central business district, Arena said.

“Instead, office owners will have to compete with a massive block of vacancy, inevitably leading to cannibalization of the downtown office market, impacting every local business supporting this area,” he wrote. “This is an opportunity that will never come along again.”

However, Greene Street Ventures said the move to Metro West will bring revitalization to another area of Baltimore that’s been neglected — the area around the Franklin-Mulberry Expressway, the partially built highway that tore through Black neighborhoods when it was built in 1979.

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“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 an October statement.


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