With his term-limited administration winding down, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has made Baltimore City an offer it probably should refuse: take possession of the aging State Center 28-acre campus once it is emptied out of all state workers.
When Hogan took office eight years ago, a public-private plan was in place, supported by BHCA and all surrounding community associations, to renovate the dilapidated complex into a $1.5 billion mix of state and private office buildings and retail businesses, likely including a supermarket. Thousands of state workers would be officed there. That plan was constructed during the administration of an earlier Republican governor and a contract to start work was negotiated in 2009 during the term of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
Hogan, on taking office, decried the deal as a “boondoggle” and sought to stop it, which led to years of litigation and no progress. Last year with downtown Baltimore office buildings emptied out because of the pandemic, Hogan and State Senate Leader Bill Ferguson (D), whose senate district includes downtown, made a deal to ship state workers expeditiously from State Center to privately owned buildings downtown. About 700 workers have vacated, with another 2,000 or so expecting to move.
The two candidates vying to become governor have not said anything about the project. It is not clear that Hogan can give away the property without legislative action.
“The surrounding communities and the entire city deserve a State Center site that lives up to its full potential,” Mayor Bandon Scott said. “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.” However, given the pace of these things, Scott likely will be gone, like Hogan, before a shovel turns.
The Baltimore Sun called it Hogan’s “last ‘gift’ to Baltimore,” a bookend to his other major decision upon taking office to kill the cross-city light rail, the Red Line. “Who is going to pay to remove the existing asbestos-laden structures? Redevelopment was possible in the original plan only because of those state leases. How will Baltimore attract developers now? Who will foot the bill?” the editors wondered.
One thing seems certain: those rotting buildings may or may not eventually be torn down, but the likelihood of a new development plan taking shape and being constructed in less than a decade is unlikely. Get used to the idea of an empty space to our south for years ahead. It seems almost certain.