Costello and Hayes: Don’t give up on State Center

The Sun hit the nail on the head in its editorial last month bemoaning the effect on the city of Gov. Larry Hogan‘s decision to cancel Maryland’s contracts for the renovation of the State Center office complex on Baltimore’s West Side. We share The Sun’s view, and add our voices to the chorus by expanding on 1) the history of State Center’s community impact and engagement; 2) our grave concerns for job loss; and 3) the arena red herring. We close with requests of the governor, in the belief that concerns must be paired with solutions.

When built in 1954, State Center’s concrete complex segregated nine historically connected neighborhoods in the heart of Central West Baltimore, taking a decades-long toll on the community’s quality of life. In 2005, the state found an opportunity to reverse the damage by forming a public-private-partnership for State Center’s redevelopment. Shortly thereafter, a coalition of 12 community organizations formed the State Center Neighborhood Alliance. These community stakeholders worked tirelessly with the development team over the following decade, helping plan a development that would create transformational progress for the surrounding neighborhoods and improve the city as a whole. In early 2016, this team of advocates executed a precedent-setting community benefits agreement, including a vital focus on local hiring. The odds of two community organizations agreeing is never a given, even for relatively small issues. For 12 to rally together in unanimous acclaim for such a large project is breathtaking and fleetingly rare. To say there is unparalleled community-wide support for this project is an understatement.

Beyond nearby residents missing out on this tremendous opportunity for transit-oriented economic development, located on one of the city’s largest transportation hubs, the entire city will also suffer a blow to its workforce. The 3,000-plus state jobs located at State Center are primarily good paying, middle-class positions, held by Baltimore City residents, many of whom utilize public transportation to get to and from work. If the state agencies located at the complex are moved to other locations, it is virtually guaranteed these jobs will end up being relocated from the city. It may not happen next year, it may not happen in 2020, but it will happen. It is only a matter of time before these agencies are moved to the surrounding counties. As Baltimore City fights on despite decades of disinvestment, its people’s strength and resilience should not be unjustly tested yet again. We cannot lose these jobs. The recent news of the relocation of 99 jobs outside of the city is alarming and begs the question of what’s next.

Equally unsettling is the suggestion that an arena would be an effective use in the heart of quiet, residential streets where children play, devoid of vast parking lots and screaming crowds. Comptroller Peter Franchot’s suggestion to build an arena at State Center, which led Mr. Hogan to propose a feasibility study for the project, is an unfortunate red herring. The idea was actually studied in 2006, and the study found that State Center ranked as the fifth out of six sites considered in viability for locations for a new arena. The study goes on to cite construction issues related to the Baltimore Metro Tunnel and a lack of width between Eutaw Street and Madison Street, making it not feasible.

We ask that Governor Hogan publicly commit to keeping State Center’s current slate of state agencies and jobs in Baltimore City, irrespective of future development at the State Center complex. We also ask the governor to work with the State Center Neighborhood Alliance to develop a plan of action that works for each of the surrounding communities. Community members and elected officials have been waiting for this project for over a decade. We put countless hours of work into forming a plan ripe with opportunity, and we are willing to keep working despite this tremendous blow. Now it is time for the governor to roll up his sleeves and work with us.

Eric T. Costello and Antonio Hayes

Mr. Costello ( represents the 11th District in the Baltimore City Council. Mr. Hayes ( represents the 40th Legislative District in the Maryland House of Delegates. Both are Democrats.