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Politics

Baltimore’s State Center complex will be turned over to the city for redevelopment, Lt. Gov. Rutherford says

The state of Maryland intends to hand Baltimore’s State Center Complex to the city for future redevelopment, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford announced Wednesday in Annapolis.

“Once we get the agencies out of State Center, it is our intent to turn that property over … to the City of Baltimore so that the citizens and their elected representatives can determine the best use for that site,” Rutherford said at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting.

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The State Center Complex is a 28-acre area of aging state government office buildings near Eutaw Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near Midtown. The state intends to declare it as surplus property, which would allow the city to claim it.

The Republican lieutenant governor briefed Mayor Brandon Scott on the announcement Tuesday.

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Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said the state intends to hand Baltimore’s State Center Complex to Baltimore City for future redevelopment. The complex is a 28-acre development near Eutaw Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“The surrounding communities and the entire city deserve a State Center site that lives up to its full potential,” the Democratic mayor said in a statement Wednesday. “My administration will work with this Governor, the next governor, the surrounding communities and their elected leaders to develop a plan for the site that we can all be proud of — a plan that fits into our shared vision for Baltimore’s renaissance.”

Scott said there are a lot of details that need to be worked out, including how to fund the demolition and remediation necessary to put this site back into productive use.

State Sen. Antonio Hayes, a Democrat whose district encompasses the State Center, noted that predevelopment and demolition costs for the property are likely to be hefty. He plans discussions with the mayor and others.

”If they’re going to turn it over … it needs to be with some type of financial incentive,” Hayes said, “to avoid “being another burden on the taxpayers.”

Citing the nearby public transit options, Hayes said that he hopes the state will be a partner “to help make this a multimodal transportation hub and gateway to Baltimore.”

The announcement followed the Board of Public Works’ approval Wednesday of a $1.2 million annual lease to relocate the headquarters for the Maryland State Department of Assessment and Taxation from State Center to a building in Baltimore’s Central Business District.

That move builds on Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement in April 2021 that the state would move the thousands of state employees who work in a dozen agencies in the aging complex to available office space in other parts of the city.

During Maryland’s 2021 legislative session, Hogan secured $50 million in a supplemental budget to begin the process of moving from State Center.

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Plans to redevelop the 1950s-era collection of buildings on the western edge of Mount Vernon were first floated under the administration of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich in 2004 — and they’ve been mired in controversy ever since. Downtown businesses feared a state-backed redevelopment plan would unfairly benefit that area and damage the city’s traditional business district.

The office buildings at the State Center were described as dilapidated and desperately needing repairs more than a decade ago. The area also was seen as cutting off neighborhoods from more vibrant areas of the city, especially after state employees left for home in the evenings.

Plans to redevelop the 1950s-era collection of buildings on the western edge of Mount Vernon were first floated under the administration of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich in 2004 — and they’ve been mired in controversy ever since.

In 2010, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley called it a “giant dead zone” and a “concrete wasteland.”

The site, which has access to light rail, Metro and train service, led developers and politicians to imagine ambitious — and costly — ideas for urban renewal with new state offices. The O’Malley administration reached a deal in 2009 with a development group on a $1.5 billion project that included new offices for hundreds of state workers, residences and shops.

The project was stalled for years after a group of downtown landlords sued the state and the developer in 2010, contending the deal failed to follow Maryland’s competitive bidding requirements. That lawsuit was thrown out eventually.

In 2016, early in his tenure, Hogan canceled that plan and the Board of Public Works voted to invalidate earlier leases with those developers. Citing slow progress and runaway costs, Hogan said the deal made no sense and that he would seek a new developer for the site and begin moving the state workers to make way for demolition.

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The state and the developers sued each other, again slowing the process even as the state sought a new developer and made plans to move the workers to new offices in other buildings.

Tuesday’s announcement follows a recent Baltimore City Circuit Court decision confirming that the Board of Public Works was within its right to terminate leases granted to developers under O’Malley.

A representative of developer State Center LLC, led by Baltimore-based Ekistics, did not respond late Wednesday to a request for comment.

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Rutherford, who was filling in for Hogan as chair of the Board of Public Works, said the earlier arrangement would have been a “financial albatross” for the state and taxpayers because of above-market rents.

The move to downtown office buildings will keep roughly 3,300 state jobs in Baltimore, easing long-standing concerns that the state could shift positions out of the city.

Rutherford said the move to new office space downtown will provide a “modern and vibrant” workspace for state employees, with access to amenities like a cafe, fitness center and proximity to downtown shopping, helping businesses that have suffered under the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Moving those state agencies, meanwhile, will free up the State Center site.

“We really feel that the best decisions with regard to future use of that property should come from the city and its residents and not necessarily from Annapolis,” Rutherford said.

In the past, numerous ideas have been floated for the site, including the development of a new arena, which was proposed by state Comptroller Peter Franchot. A Maryland Stadium Authority study suggested apartments, medical offices and senior living be built on the site.

Nearby residents have said they want a voice in whatever plans are made for redeveloping the site. Many want whatever is built there to better connect their neighborhoods of Bolton Hill, Madison Park and Upton to Mount Vernon and downtown.


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