Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous released a new policy paper Tuesday focused on moving ahead quickly with the State Center redevelopment project in West Baltimore.
If elected governor, Jealous pledged to drop the state’s lawsuit against the previous developer of State Center, Ekistics LLC; renegotiate a pricey lease agreement that Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration says is too expensive; and green-light a redevelopment plan backed by a dozen community groups near the project.
“With the redevelopment plan already so far along, the quickest and most fiscally responsible way to break ground is to continue working with the current developer, Ekistics,” Jealous wrote. “Not only is the state on the hook for tens of millions in damages if we break our contracts with the company — funding that could instead be put toward paying for office space rent in new buildings — but they have already closely tailored their blueprint designs to more than a decade of community input.”
Maryland House of Delegates leaders sent a letter Monday criticizing the Hogan administration’s attempt to redo plans for a State Center redevelopment while urging the governor to back existing plans favored by nearby communities.
The State Center project remains mired in lawsuits with a developer that began working on it in 2009. Baltimore-based Ekistics LLC was planning a $1.5 billion redevelopment that included new offices for hundreds of state workers, residences and shops.
Hogan called for a new developer, citing slow progress and runaway costs. The state sued Ekistics last year to force it out of its leases and Ekistics countersued.
Last month, the Hogan administration officially launched a do-over for the stalled redevelopment of the State Center project in Midtown Baltimore that already has attracted interest from at least one firm, Owings Mills-based David S. Brown Enterprises.
The Maryland Stadium Authority and the Maryland Department of General Services issued a request for expressions of interest in taking over the redevelopment of 28 acres of state offices, a project seen as key to economic growth on the city’s west side.
The site is considered a transit-oriented development by city and state officials because it is located next to subway and light rail stops. It’s also near Symphony Center, a complex of apartments, offices and shops, developed by David S. Brown.
During an interview this month on WYPR, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford cited the lease agreements as an impediment to progress on State Center.
“That deal would have required the state pay rent equivalent to if we were down at the Four Seasons in Harbor East,” he said. “The deal is not a good deal. We would like to redevelop that project. We just need to get this development team out of the way.”
Leading Democrats — including Baltimore Del. Maggie McIntosh, Prince George’s Del. Tawanna P. Gaines and Baltimore County Del. Adrienne A. Jones — have urged the governor to move ahead with existing plans for the redevelopment.
Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday issued a call for developers interested in taking over the State Center project in West Baltimore, seeking to advance a project that has long been mired in delays and lawsuits.
City Councilman Eric Costello, who represents the area, said the lawsuit is slowing the project.
“As long as it stays in litigation, nothing will happen there,” Costello said. “I would like to see the original plan move forward. That would be the best plan for the city.”
During an anti-crime walk with Mayor Catherine Pugh last week, Jealous cited State Center as one of several ways he argues Hogan has let Baltimore down. The former president of the NAACP is hoping to defeat the Republican incumbent in the Nov. 6 general election.
“We should see cranes up building up State Center,” he said. “We should see construction going on on the ‘Highway to Nowhere’ building the Red Line. We should not be standing here in August with so much violence happening every day.”
Scott Sloofman, a spokesman for Hogan’s re-election campaign, said Jealous’ proposal is illegal, because the bipartisan Board of Public Works voted against the project, citing fiscal concerns.
“What the Jealous campaign released today is a warmed-over version of Martin O’Malley’s failed plan that was unanimously shot down by the bipartisan Board of Public Works because it would breach the state’s debt ceiling, threaten our AAA bond rating, and was just plain old illegal,” Sloofman said. “Governor Hogan has an actual plan to redevelop the State Center site and he’s committed to making it a reality, but overpaying the developers or jeopardizing the state’s long-term fiscal viability is not part of that plan.”