After emerging from a prolonged legal limbo supporters of the billion-dollar State Center Project still believe it could be transformative for the chronically struggling neighborhoods that surround it.
Last week the Maryland Court of Appeals removed what had been an obstinate legal hurdle in the form of a lawsuit by a group of business owners – funded partly by Orioles owner Peter Angelos – which had prevented the $1.5 billion State Center Project from moving forward.
The massive Midtown redevelopment of the state government office complex sprawled over 28 acres near Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Eutaw Street, had been stalled since 2010 because plaintiffs claimed – among other things – developers had violated state procurement laws.
The court’s ruling clears the way for the reboot of State Center and the promise of thousands of jobs over the next 10 years – many allegedly designated for neighborhood residents – starting with a $300 to $400 million project consisting of an underground parking garage, supermarket and retail spaces. But, no official timetable has been set for groundbreaking for phase one of the project.
Caroline Moore of Ekistics LLC, the lead developer on the State Center Project said after years of being dormant she is ready to, “re-launch our team.”
“Our team is very engaged they’ve gotten themselves back up to speed and we’re very quickly going to meet with the state to put together our critical path and start to plan out when we can (start) building this first phase,” Moore said.
“We’re not caught flat-footed though we have been planning really since October…hoping that we would win preparing for the best,” she added.
The delay may have helped community leaders – who have been an integral part of the State Center process since 2005 – to more fully prepare residents of surrounding West Baltimore neighborhoods to be full participants in what they hope is a transcendent development in their community for decades to come.
“Residents that live in 21217 that live in 21201 and 21202, 50 percent of the jobs will be directed towards that community…,” said Rev. Alvin Hathaway, pastor of venerable Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue, a few blocks from the State Center campus.
“When you take the aggregate total number of jobs over the life of the project, which is 10 years they are projecting that this will generate 9,000 jobs over that 10 year period. So, we’re talking in terms of residents in the local community having access to 4,500 of those jobs; it’s going to be a huge job creation opportunity for that community,” Hathaway added.
He believes the group Community Churches for Community Development (Union Baptist is a member), along with the State Center Neighborhood Alliance (representing the nine neighborhoods connected to the project) has forged a strong working relationship with the State Center Project’s developers.
They argue that relationship is the foundation of the so-called Economic Inclusion Plan, which was signed in 2011. The agreement – touted as the first of its kind for Baltimore City – allegedly assures a significant percentage of jobs and economic benefits for neighborhood residents first, city residents, second and state residents third.
“I think it’s (Economic Inclusion Plan) our competitive advantage it’s our greatest asset it’s our defining moment,” Moore said. “Development isn’t about bricks and sticks and just about great architecture it’s about the spaces in between and the people that make it all possible,” she added.
Against a dreary economic landscape, a major charge (and challenge) for community leaders like Hathaway has been to provide a viable workforce to fill the employment parameters they fought for as part of the Economic Inclusion Plan.
“We have inventoried 2,500 residents that live in that community and in that inventory we know who is ready to go, who may need a little bit more support,” Hathaway said.
“Now that we know that the project is going…when the hiring calls begin we know that these persons coming out of 21217 we can recommend for the apprenticeships and the labor jobs…So, there were glazers, people who had been connected to unions in some way, carpenters, plumbers, some had been steamfitters. So, we’ve got a skill base in that community,” he added.
“We’re looking at the whole economic eco system and see how we can interact and be able to match people in our community for those different opportunities.
We want this to be a transformative project for the residents, for the community and for the City of Baltimore and to be a model for the country.”