The State Center Project – placed in limbo by a lawsuit filed by some of the city’s most well-connected (see Orioles owner Peter Angelos) business persons – has generated more hype, anticipation, hope, fear and loathing than any other Baltimore development deal in many years.

Yet, there is no clear indication if and/or when its massive 28-acre promise will begin to manifest. As of now only the State Center website stands as a monument to that promise and ironically is emblematic of a still anemic U.S. economy with only the promise of glittering days to come.

The website tantalizes with the claims of 5,439 permanent new jobs upon the project’s completion (the third and final phase is scheduled to end in 15 years) and $1.8 million annually in tax revenue. But, the website also reveals today that there are exactly zero new jobs connected to this prodigious project that has not broken ground yet.

Still, many of the residents of State Center’s neighboring communities have literally invested years of time and energy preparing for the arrival of what could be a mammoth boost on many levels seen and unseen.

“State Center is an incredibly important project to the 13th District and the City of Baltimore,” said Baltimore City Councilman Bill Cole, who represents the 13th District. “I represent a lot of diverse neighborhoods around State Center and they’ve been at the table now for more than five years. And the resounding appeal for this project is clear they all want it to happen.”

As racially and culturally diverse as those neighborhoods are, they may be even more economically diverse. And the great appeal of State Center to the poorer members of the community is the prospect of thousands of jobs over the course of several years.

“As State Center is re-developed and as more jobs come in and as more of those buildings go on the tax rolls, it will certainly enhance our tax base, which is one thing we need to be doing in a city that continues to lose population,” Cole said.
Perhaps, no single individual has done more to proactively prepare his community for the pending arrival of State Center and all that entails than the Rev. Alvin Hathaway of Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue.

Hathaway reports, “I was born in the 1200 block of Druid Hill Avenue,” a few doors down from venerable Union Baptist. And as a little boy growing up in West Baltimore in the 1950s he witnessed what the first coming of State Center wrought upon his once proud and prosperous community.

“That was historically an African-American community; African-American homeowners, there were African-American businesses and the state through public policy wiped out an African-American community,” Hathaway explains. “It was literally the first Urban Renewal area in the city, so they just decimated a community and now from my perspective it’s the opportunity to correct the wrong.”

Hathaway and a small army of other like-minded individuals have embarked on a seemingly organic odyssey to rally their community so they won’t be victims of urban renewal, but instead contribute meaningfully to it and reap the rewards.
“To me this is an opportunity, if we properly use it to aim community to aim a project, … that will accrue to the benefit of indigenous residents and there will also be an opportunity for the future,” Hathaway said.

“For the young kids who are going to the Booker T’s (Booker T. Washington Middle in the 1300 block of McCulloh Street) and the Furman Templeton’s (Furman L. Templeton Elementary in the 1200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue), can now say, ‘Hey, wait a minute there’s now opportunity in my local community. I can dream I can plan, my uncle worked on the project, my relative worked on the project. This was something that was done for us,’” Hathaway added.

Hathaway’s church, Union Baptist, along with other churches, organizations and individuals have implemented a sustainable plan to put people from their community to work who want to work for years to come.

“We have a database of people in the community, some 2,700 people. We’ve trained over 600 people,” Hathaway said. “The people are getting information, they’re knowledgeable, they understand, they go to meetings. You now get an educated base of people about this project.”

Specifically, Hathaway explains, written agreements have been made to ensure people from the neighborhoods connected to State Center get first crack at the myriad construction jobs. “What we advocated for and we agreed to at least 50 percent of the work hours will go to people who live in 21201, 21202, 21217 ,” Hathaway said. “The second priority is people who live in the city of Baltimore. The third priority is the people who live in the state of Maryland. We want to make certain that we do not have out of town license plates and contractors shifting work force to come work on this project.”

Further, Hathaway says the organic employment vision for State Center from his perspective and the community he represents goes beyond construction jobs. “Not only will there be opportunities for minority businesses, but there will also be career path and growth opportunities,” he said. “We have people who can cater, people who can provide food on the construction site. My young boys who stay on the corner selling water, we’re going to organize them so they will also be the beverage suppliers on the site. So, it’s going to be comprehensive in terms of how we develop business.”

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor