BCCC harbor project delayed

Cordish gets state to review bidding won by a rival developer

October 14, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

The arduous, three-year effort by Baltimore City Community College to develop one of its valuable Inner Harbor properties hit a major roadblock yesterday when top state officials refused to endorse the college's building plans.

During a meeting of the three-member Board of Public Works in Annapolis, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer agreed to postpone a decision on the proposal while a state agency examines how the college handled the bidding process.

The vote was at least a temporary victory for the Cordish Co., a Baltimore development firm, which was passed over by college officials 18 months ago when they selected a team to build on the 500 E. Pratt St. site.

Glendening was not convinced that BCCC officials had followed the correct process in selecting a development team, said Michael Morrill, a spokesman for the governor.

"He was concerned we didn't know whether the terms of the law had been met," Morrill said. "It was not clear that the law, which requires that the funding to the state and the college be maximized, was actually met."

Peta N. Richkus, the state general services secretary, was instructed to review the college's procedures and report back to the governor and board members.

At issue is the college's plans for turning the property at the northwest corner of Pratt Street and Market Place into a major revenue-generating development. The property is the site of a 240-space parking lot and a two-story college building that is slated to be razed.

The state Department of General Services selected the Cordish Co. in 1996 to develop the site with an $18.5 million mixture of retail, office and parking space.

But, concerned about that project's revenue potential, BCCC officials reopened the bidding process in 1997 and a year later selected a team headed by Kravco Corp. of Philadelphia, rejecting new bids from Cordish and a third firm.

The Kravco team, which included the local development firm, A&R Development Corp., headed by Theo C. Rodgers and William L. Adams, proposed a $90 million complex of retail, office, hotel and parking space.

Cordish officials cried foul and promised to challenge the college's decision, which they did yesterday at the Board of Public Works meeting. Cordish officials focused on state law requiring BCCC to maximize revenue as it develops any of its properties.

In 1998, Cordish promised to top all bidders on the project by 10 percent, and the company's proposal called for the college to receive $1.3 million in annual rent, compared with the $1.1 million promised by the Kravco group. A third development proposal was to have generated $1.5 million in annual income for BCCC.

"The law states that the community college has to attempt to maximize its revenue from that property," said Joseph Weinberg, Cordish's executive vice president. "The process they set up was flawed and there was no attempt to negotiate to maximize revenue to the college."

But BCCC President James D. Tschechtelin said he was confident that a review will validate the college's actions.

"We've worked so closely with the attorney general's office every step of the way," Tschechtelin said. "I think I can say this was a rock-solid process that touched every base along the way. The evaluation was done in an objective and thorough way."

He added that the Cordish proposal to beat any other bid by 10 percent was "highly unorthodox" and impractical, and that revenue was just one of several factors considered by the BCCC Board of Trustees.

The Board of Public Works had been asked to approve BCCC's lease with the Kravco group, which was to generate a minimum of $1.1 million annually for the college over the next 50 years.

The third member of the board, Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, said he supported the college and was prepared to vote for the redevelopment plan yesterday.

"I think if we delay it, the decision will come back the same, and [the Cordish company] will continue to protest," Dixon said.

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