Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake seeks to find a compromise in the State Center lawsuit
On the eve of her inauguration this week, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called representatives of both sides of the contentious State Center lawsuit to her City Hall office for a private meeting.
The mayor’s spokesman, Ryan O’Doherty, said Rawlings-Blake sought to gather the key players in the bitter dispute and attempt to strike a compromise.
“The impasse on this project does not support her goal to grow the city,” O’Doherty said. “And so the meeting was an opportunity to show that she’s willing to sit down and meet with people — she’s not going to allow the differences to prevent progress from happening.”
The lawsuit, filed nearly a year ago, seeks to halt the $1.5 billion development north of center city that would offer 1.5 million square feet of office and retail space. Plaintiffs charge that the state failed to follow its own procurement rules in hiring a developer for the project by not opening the process to competitive bidding in 2005, when master developers for the 15-year project were named.
O’Doherty said no compromises came out of the meeting, held at 5 p.m. Monday.
Caroline Moore, CEO of Ekistics LLC, the master developer of State Center, declined to comment on the meeting, as did plaintiffs’ attorney Alan M. Rifkin of Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver LLC, aside from saying the meeting was cordial in tone.
Property owners represented by Rifkin say the proposed State Center project would prompt an exodus of state government jobs from center city to the new complex on West Preston Street, rendering the central business district with more vacancies. At present, there is a nearly 25 percent vacancy rate in commercial and office space — about 2 million square feet — blamed on the recession.
State government leases about 700,000 square feet in center city for agencies such as the Maryland Attorney General’s Office and the Maryland Transit Administration.
Peter G. Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles and a property owner in the central business district, is paying for much of the lawsuit, although he is not a plaintiff.
The plaintiffs are some restaurant owners in Little Italy and Stratford Realty Management Co. LLC; St. Paul Plaza Office Tower LLC; Lexington Charles LP; 301 Charles Street LLC; Park Charles Apartments Associates LLC; Park Charles Office Associates LLC; 501 St. Paul Street LLC; St. Paul & Franklin LLC; RoboPark LLC; Charles Plaza LLC; 39 W. Lexington LLC; Baltimore Condo 2-8 LLC; Fayette Garage LLC; Charles Towers LLC; The Marlboro Classic LP; and Redwood Square Apartments LP.
O’Doherty said Rawlings-Blake did not specify how a compromise could be made between the two sides in the State Center lawsuit.
“We’d like to resolve it, and the mayor didn’t specify how that could be done,” he said. “But she wants to see the project move forward, and at a time when we’re trying to end the population decline and get the city going again, you can’t have major projects tied up in litigation.
“The atmosphere is very troubling … we need to move forward.”
Moore has said that the State Center development will be a public and private partnership.
Plans to start development with construction of a $36.5 million parking garage were halted last year after the lawsuit was filed, and the project has been on hold ever since.
Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Althea M. Handy ruled in mid-July against two motions to dismiss the lawsuit, one filed by Moore and the other by state agencies.
In turn, the developer has filed a countersuit against the plaintiffs seeking $100 million in damages for stalling the project.
A hearing on that countersuit is scheduled for Dec. 14 before Judge Handy.
The original developers of State Center were Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and Doracon Contracting Inc. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse withdrew as the master developer in 2008.
Both companies have since halted work in Maryland.
Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse has all but shuttered its office because of financial problems. Doracon, owned by Ronald Lipscomb, the former boyfriend of former Mayor Sheila Dixon, is no longer registered as a Maryland business entity.
Lipscomb was involved in the corruption scandal that led to Dixon’s resignation from office on Feb. 4, 2010. He has since shut down his Baltimore headquarters of Doracon. Link to Article (subscription required)