The federal government's decision to lease up to 250,000 square feet of office space in a $37 million building planned for the southwest corner of Baltimore and Howard streets has been formally challenged by a competing developer, an action that could delay construction of the project.
John Thompson, an executive assistant with the General Services Administration in Philadelphia, said the challenge, lodged Sept. 7 by Charles-Redwood Limited Partnership, a Baltimore group headed by developer Leonard Attman, triggers a review that could take more than three months.
Because the protest was filed with the General Accounting Office in Washington, the investigative arm of Congress, it "puts an automatic stay on the project until such time as the GAO makes its recommendation," Mr. Thompson said.
The GAO has authority to review decisions made by the GSA, which selected the Howard street site. Mr. Thompson said the GSA has until Oct. 15 to explain why it chose that site over nine others.
GSA officials are "confident that this was a responsible award, and we don't think there is going to be a reversal," he said.
Mr. Attman's group is challenging GSA's decision to lease office space in the 11-story City Crescent office building planned for the Howard street site by a group headed by minority developers Otis Warren and Theo Rodgers.
The award, which was announced Aug. 31, was one of the largest ever given to a minority-led development team by GSA's mid-Atlantic office and marked the first time a development team headed by minority businessmen had been in a position to build a large office building in downtown Baltimore.
Mr. Attman is the developer of the proposed Baltimore Financial Centre, a 34-story office tower planned for the southeast corner of Charles and Redwood streets. That project was one of nine that were offered as sites for the federal agencies but lost out to the City Crescent proposal.
Mr. Attman declined to comment on the protest and referred any inquiries about it to the GSA.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he understood that the challenge emphasized why the protesters believe the Baltimore Financial Centre project would have been a better choice, rather than why the City Crescent project was a poor choice. He added that city officials, unless they are told otherwise, will operate under the assumption that the Howard Street project will be the federal office site.
Mr. Warren said he understood from the GSA that part of the challenge has to do with Mr. Attman's contention that the site does not meet the government's criteria for a federal office location because it is not surrounded by enough "newer, higher-class buildings."
He said that charge is "simply not true" and that he can point to the office tower at 250 West Pratt St., the Veterans Administration Hospital, the Camden Yards stadium and other nearby projects as evidence of the recent investment in the area.
Mr. Warren said he was surprised by the challenge but is proceeding with his project.
"I've gotten calls from at least half of the other bidders saying how happy they are for me [for winning] and that they'll do anything they could to help. It made me feel real good. This really surprised me, but it hasn't stopped us. We're still working," he said.
Mr. Thompson said that after the GSA makes its report, the GAO will have three months to determine whether the award process was carried out properly and relay its findings back to the GSA, which probably will follow its recommendations.
Proposed tenants of the new building include the Baltimore office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Army Corps of Engineers; the Small Business Administration; the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Mr. Warren's team had been given 540 days to construct its building, making its deadline March 1992. With the challenge, the clock effectively has been halted until the GAO renders a decision, Mr. Thompson said.