Hospital's backer out of bidding

Wayson withdraws from group vying for AAMC downtown site

Conflict potential raised

Family's $1 million donation led residents to question influence

July 14, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

A major fund-raiser and contributor to the Anne Arundel Medical Center abruptly withdrew yesterday from one of four groups competing to redevelop the hospital's Annapolis property amid concerns about a potential conflict of interest.

Attorney and lobbyist Edward O. Wayson Jr. announced he was leaving the development team led by Baltimore-based Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, six hours after The Sun contacted him to ask about his involvement.

"My intention is to allow everything to be handled unencumbered by any conflict, whether perceived or real," Wayson said. "I don't want to hinder the process in any way."

Four builders are finalists in the bid to redevelop the downtown parcel that the hospital will vacate in 2001 when it moves to Parole. The hospital's board of trustees is scheduled to select the winning proposal in late August.

Word of Wayson's investment disturbed some residents who knew of his family's recent $1 million donation and were aware he sits on the 24-member board that runs the medical center's fund-raising foundation.

In interviews conducted before Wayson withdrew, residents in the historic community surrounding the 5-acre hospital site questioned whether his connections would give his group an unfair advantage in competing for the development rights.

"Residents are very concerned that it presents a conflict," said Janet Shenk, who has served for two years on a committee reviewing redevelopment proposals. "On the surface, at least, it doesn't look good."

Hospital officials expressed outrage at the suggestion of a conflict, calling such suspicions "insulting." Wayson said his family's donation was in no way linked to his bid for the potentially lucrative deal.

"Just because my family made a contribution last year doesn't mean we're going to have any advantage with the board," Wayson said. "I think that's a little simplistic."

Wayson said his family committed last September to its donation, the largest private gift in the hospital's $17 million fund drive. He said he didn't approach Struever until March.

But in the weeks since the hospital narrowed from 12 to four the list of developers vying for the redevelopment rights, residents have grown increasingly critical of the hospital's selection process.

Three of the plans that made the cut matched the residents' request for construction that would blend seamlessly into their historic district. But the fourth, presented by Struever Bros., proposed transforming the hospital's eight-story tower into condominiums and leaving in place what some residents deem an unsightly five-story parking garage.

Struever brought in an architect known for more modern structures, and hinted that the tower would be covered in glass to provide better views of the nearby harbor. Some residents were aghast.

"That proposal just struck everyone as bizarre compared to the others," said Gilbert Renaut, a past president of the local neighborhood association. "So when word started getting around that one of their investors was a major hospital donor, that made everyone suspicious."

Minor Carter, president of the Ward One community group that has tried to keep the hospital abreast of the community's sentiment, also expressed concern when he learned of Wayson's role.

"I would hope the hospital would be careful to make sure there was no hint of conflict," Carter said. "That's not only important for the residents, but for the other bidders, who deserve a level playing field."

At least two of the other teams featured Annapolis insiders, including a former alderman and several former planning officials. But none was aware that the Struever team entered the competition with a well-connected backer.

Washington-based Holladay Corp. and Virginia-based Madison Homes declined to comment about Wayson. A representative of the third group, Baltimore-based Summit Properties, said he had faith in the process.

"It would dismay me tremendously if the decision was not based solely on the merits, but I will hope for the best in the judgment of the hospital board," said David F. Tufaro, Summit's executive vice president.

"I don't think they'd do something that would leave a bad taste in the neighborhood," he said. "I would expect them to do the right thing."

Hospital officials said that is precisely what they intend to do.

"Anything but a fair and thorough review would be truly insulting to the entire process that we've been through in the past two years, and to everybody that's been involved," said Lisa Hillman, the medical center's vice president for development and community affairs.

Bill Struever, who heads the group that proposes overhauling the hospital tower, said he was not aware of the potential for conflict that Wayson's involvement presented.

"I had heard that his family had made a substantial gift, but I didn't know he had a role on the foundation board," Struever said after Wayson's departure from his group.

Struever said he discussed the potential for the appearance of a conflict with Wayson, and both agreed he should withdraw. He said his company had strict policies to avoid potential conflicts.

"What Ed Wayson is doing by stepping away shows his willingness to do whatever it takes to make sure people focus on what is best for that community and the hospital," Struever said. "We all need to keep focused on that."

Pub Date: 7/14/99

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