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State Center development study being conducted without developer input

larry hogan, state center, development, baltimore, ekistics

Over the objections of state legislators, the Maryland Stadium Authority is conducting an almost $70,000 study of development possibilities at Baltimore's State Center without seeking input from developers.

The Hogan administration requested the study after the Board of Public Works voided leases in December that underpinned a deal with the previously chosen developer, Ekistics LLC. Details of the study are outlined in memos and letters obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

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State Center is a sprawling, decrepit government office complex in Midtown that has been slated for mixed-use redevelopment for more than a decade. Supporters had hoped the $1.5 billion project would be a catalyst for development in the surrounding area, but Gov. Larry Hogan — backed by fellow board members Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp — voted in December to scrap the O'Malley administration's plan for the site.

That move has led to a court dispute with the developer that threatens to delay any potential redevelopment for years.

The $69,080 study of alternative development options is being conducted in addition to a $10,000 study of the feasibility of building a sports arena on the site — a pet proposal of Franchot, the Republican governor's Democratic ally on the Board of Public Works. Kopp is also a Democrat.

Hogan's Department of General Services requested that the stadium authority undertake the studies. The May 1 request for the $69,080 study instructs the authority to prepare it without conducting interviews or getting input from potential developers because "the study is for internal use and will remain private for pre-decisional analysis."

Nick Cavey, a General Services Department spokesman, said the court battle between the state and Ekistics prohibits the study from seeking input from other developers.

"Once resolved, the state is committed to engaging all relevant stakeholders to ensure the redevelopment of the State Center site is a success for the community, the city and all of Maryland," Cavey said. "As is the case with many state government documents and studies, it will be made public once finalized and reviewed."

The authority voted May 2 to approve the study request and two days later notified top lawmakers of its plans.

Two of those legislators, Del. Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore and Del. Adrienne Jones of Baltimore County, wrote to state Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley and stadium authority Executive Director Michael J. Frenz on June 24 objecting to the studies while conceding that the administration had the authority to move forward.

McIntosh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, and Jones, chair of the capital budget subcommittee, criticized the administration's decision to "undercut the work and investment that has happened over three administrations" of both parties.

The State Center project was conceived under the administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and was continued by former Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat.

The legislators, both Democrats, expressed particular scorn for the notion of building a sports complex at State Center.

"This is not a site for an arena for a phantom team to play in that brings no support to these surrounding communities," McIntosh and Jones wrote. They called the effort "another empty promise to West Baltimore."

Senate leaders did not join in the objections.

Frenz rejected the delegates' objections last month. The authority chief pointed out the lawmakers had missed the 30-day window for them to comment and the study already had begun.

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"We believe that once our study is completed, it will serve as a valuable tool in any discussions you may have with the administration for viable options for the site," Frenz wrote.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

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