Caroline Moore, leader of the team behind the pending 28-acre State Center Project, made an announcement about the massive development via e-mail recently.

“Join us as we celebrate the signing of the ‘Economic Inclusion Plan,’ on Saturday, July 9th 11 am,” Moore’s message read.

“This agreement between the project developer, the State Center Neighborhood Alliance (representing the surrounding area including 9 communities) and the Community Churches for Community Development sets forth goals and a shared responsibility to maximize jobs and opportunities for local residents, women and minorities,” she explained. “Signing of the Economic Inclusion Plan will be led by elected officials including Congressman Cummings and Mayor Rawlings-Blake among others.”

The Economic Inclusion Plan is something that was pushed by the Rev. Alvin Hathaway of Union Baptist Church, which is located on Druid Hill Avenue in one of the 9 neighborhoods connected to State Center. Hathaway has been one of the most vocal and vigorous proponents of the State Center Project, enthusiastically touting the potential of hundreds of sustainable jobs for a community ravaged by crime and chronic high unemployment for decades.

But, the sad irony linked to any sort of celebration for the Economic Inclusion Plan – at least from the perspective of those who support the State Center Project – is that not one square foot of ground has been broken to physically get the project underway.

The promise of the State Center Project fuels hope in neighborhoods that desperately need it.

Yet, after several years of planning, dozens of people trained and ready to go to work and the backing and support of city and state leaders, that hope hangs in limbo because of a group of powerful downtown business persons led by perhaps the most powerful man in the state, Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

The group of downtown businesses, office owners, retailers and Little Italy restaurateurs are suing two state agencies, among others, alleging public officials didn’t follow Maryland procurement laws. The lawsuit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court stands seemingly as the only roadblock impeding the start of the project.

And the two competing forces for and against it have waged an ongoing war of words played out in the pages of the Baltimore Sun.

“Why should city residents and taxpayers lose out on this economic engine for Baltimore because of millionaires and billionaires downtown who refuse to invest in their own outdated properties,” wrote Bryan Dunn last month in the Sun. Dunn is a homeowner in Seton Hall and founder of Midtown Matters, one of the community organizations lobbying hard for State Center.

Dunn was responding to a letter published in the newspaper by David Johnson, who is president of Stratford Realty Management Co. and senior vice president of Lexington Charles Partnership. Lexington Charles is one of the plaintiffs in the suit against State Center.

In his letter Johnson seemed to argue the issue at the core of the lawsuit blocking State Center is irregularities in the competitive bidding process for the development of the project.

“While state construction projects must be awarded through a public competitive bidding process, this one wasn’t,” Johnson wrote. “And that basic problem can’t be explained away with community presentations and unwarranted claims of delay. Apparently, what else lurks beneath the surface can only be exposed through the legal process.”

And, apparently, it is the hope of Johnson and the others aligned with him in this lawsuit that the State Center Project simply never sees the light of day. And with no steadfast date in sight for a decision in this initial legal action, State Center could be tied up in litigation for years.

“Their acknowledged end game is that the state moves these workers to their own buildings downtown,” Dunn wrote. “What hypocrisy for rich private landlords angling for a state deal to call into question a public-private partnership that so significantly benefits a working-class community.”

Hypocrisy and legal wrangling aside, the stakes couldn’t be higher for those who have invested so much tangible and intangible in this controversial development.

“It’s a community crying out in frustration, angry at the ulterior motives of the opposition,” Dunn wrote. “This is not about bidding or procurement issues. It’s about killing competition. It’s a short-sighted, selfish solution for private landlords that kills growth in nine neighborhoods in desperate need of jobs and investment.”

 

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor