Senator wants neighborhoods involved in State Center planning

State Sen. Antonio Hayes (D), whose legislative District 40 includes Bolton Hill and most of West Baltimore, says he plans to revive a neighborhood alliance to help determine the future of the soon-to-be-empty 28-acre State Center complex at the south edge of the neighborhood.

A previous coalition of six neighborhoods in the shadow of the aged office buildings, led by Bolton Hill’s John Kyle, was involved in a decade of planning and advocacy for the massive public-private revitalization of the State Center complex. That plan was moving forward but after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) assumed office in 2015, it was scrapped. Several years of litigation between the spurned contractor and the State kept the issue locked up.

In April 2021 the governor and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D), whose district includes south and central Baltimore, cut a deal to move state workers out of the crumbling buildings and into vacancies in downtown office buildings emptied before and during the pandemic. Earlier the General Assembly had passed legislative language to ensure that affected neighborhoods would be consulted before changes were made to State Center plans. That language proved to be impotent, Kyle said, regarding where state employees are situated. “However, significant neighborhood input, as intended by the legislature, should occur in regard to how the land and the remaining buildings (if any) are developed and used,” he added.

Last year the governor announced the State would turn over the emptied site to the City and in December allocated $500,000 to Baltimore for planning the future of the site. It seems likely that the buildings that housed 800 state workers for several agencies in nearly 1.3 million square feet of office space may sit empty indefinitely. “My fear is that the site will sit vacant for years, dragging down the surrounding neighborhoods or that some new use that does not enhance Bolton Hill will be built,” said Ward Bucher, a restoration architect who lives on Eutaw Place.

At a Jan. 7 public briefing held at Unity Hall, Hayes and the three General Assembly delegates from the 40th District had an opportunity to present their recommendations and priorities before the annual 90-day legislative assembly opened in Annapolis. A brief presentation also was made by Anthony Jenkins, president of Coppin State University, about the university’s efforts to revitalize West Baltimore. Jenkins and Hayes were instrumental in creating the West North Avenue Development Authority last year.

Hayes and the delegates gave an overview of their accomplishments in the past session of the legislature. They also gave a summary of the many state boards which seek citizen participation. A general theme was helping residents of color. For example, Del. Melissa Wells called for the creation of a State Office of African American Affairs to help expand opportunities.

–Tom Hasler