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State Center project goes to mediation

Rendering of the proposed State Center complex at Howard and MLK. credit: Mithun
Rendering of the proposed State Center complex at Howard and MLK. credit: Mithun (BALTIMORE SUN)

After more than a year of impasse over the State Center project, the developer and the state expect to enter formal mediation in an effort to resolve their disputes.

It's the latest twist for the $1.5 billion project, which would transform a 28-acre swath of midtown with new homes and stores anchored by offices rented by the state. The project has been in the works for more than 10 years but has faced delays caused by lawsuits and shaky political support.

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The last state action on the proposal came in 2014, late in former Gov. Martin O'Malley's term, when the Board of Public Works postponed a vote on a change to the size of the project's state parking garage, deferring to a new administration.

There has been little movement since.

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The master developer agreement, signed in 2009, calls for formal mediation of 30 days to resolve disputes before either party files a lawsuit.

Both Caroline Moore, the CEO of lead developer Ekistics LLC, and a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan said they are hopeful the process will yield a resolution — though it's not clear what that might be. The two parties have not yet agreed on a mediator, Moore said.

"We are entering that period because there's a discipline and formality to what goes on, so we've got deadlines we have to meet and there's some professional responsibility that goes along with that process," Moore said.

The State Center approvals allow for 2,000 residential units, 250,000 square feet of retail and 2 million square feet of offices, including 1 million square feet for the state.

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Supporters say the plans would replace aging state buildings that date to the 1950s and 1960s and help revive the area around Eutaw and Preston Streets, which links midtown to West Baltimore and sees little activity outside working hours.

Opponents have questioned the process used to select the development team, the impact on state debt and the project's rental rates, pointing to available office space elsewhere in the city.

Hogan's spokesman, Matthew Clark, said in a statement that mediation provides "a great opportunity" to discuss the challenges of the current plans.

"While it is impossible to predict where the negotiations will lead, one thing is certain: Governor Hogan is fully committed to the redevelopment of the State Center site, and the administration is eager to move forward with a plan that will transform this part of West Baltimore, creating jobs and additional economic development in the city," he said.

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