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Maryland legislators criticize Hogan administration's 'phantom' plans for State Center project

Maryland House of Delegates leaders are criticizing the Hogan administration’s attempt to redo plans for a State Center redevelopment in Baltimore while urging the governor to back existing plans favored by nearby communities.

“There is significant concern about a plan to start anew on a phantom project,” Baltimore Del. Maggie McIntosh said in a letter Monday to administration officials. “The community is tired of getting the same ‘short shrift.’ ”

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McIntosh’s letter to Hogan’s budget secretary, David R. Brinkley, and other top state officials urged the governor to move ahead with existing plans for the redevelopment.

“To start from scratch at this point would delay any redevelopment for years to come — an outright disservice to the community,” McIntosh said in a letter also signed by Del. Tawanna P. Gaines of Prince George’s County and Del. Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County.

The delegates are Democrats. Hogan is a Republican.

Last week, 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 west side of the city.

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.

The State Center project, however, 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.

State officials say the request seeking interest from experienced firms is the first step in selecting a new master developer for the complex. Responses from interested developers are due Aug. 22.

“Redeveloping State Center in a way that truly benefits the local community has been a priority of the governor and our administration since taking office,” said Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for the governor. “It’s unfortunate that some legislators seem to be joining the failed former developers in attempting to stand in the way of making progress on this critical project. They appear to have forgotten that the former leases were unanimously rejected in a bipartisan vote of the Board of Public Works because they were a bad deal for the state and the community.”

Chasse pointed out that “potential new developers are already expressing interest” in the project.

“Bottom line – the redevelopment of State Center is moving forward full steam ahead, and we hope that the legislature will join with us to get this important project done for the community,” she said.

This year, the General Assembly passed legislation in an effort to ensure community involvement in new plans for State Center. The legislation required a community benefits agreement and local hiring. It also urged continuing with plans that call for a mixed-use development that houses state agencies and includes a grocery store.

That legislation became law without Hogan’s signature.

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“We must take this review and comment period to, again, state our strong disapproval of this latest step down an unknown path,” the delegates wrote in their letter Monday, which was also sent to the secretary of general services and the director of the Maryland Stadium Authority. "Over the past 15 years, countless hours were invested in developing the State Center plan that that included government and private sector office space, retail uses and increased parking.”

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