As Baltimore County officials rush to complete a $19 million deal to move state and county workers from a troubled Towson office tower into a renovated discount store, two politically connected figures have emerged as partners in the project.
After questioning by The Sun and a county councilman, county officials revealed this week that Steven J. Sibel will hold a 10 percent stake in 6401 York Road Associates LLC, a newly formed company that will sell the former Caldor building at that address to the county. Arthur H. Adler will hold a 20 percent share.
Sibel is the son of Hanan "Bean" Sibel, a wealthy former wholesale food broker who is the longtime campaign finance chairman for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and chairman of the county Revenue Authority, which owns and operates parking garages and golf courses. Adler is the son-in-law of Howard Brown, a developer who has built several high-profile projects in the county.
County officials insist that they did not know before this week of the involvement of Sibel and Adler. They said they have dealt only with the company's managing partners, developers Larry Boltansky and Israel Freedman, and their attorneys. The Boltansky and Freedman families control 64 percent of the company, county documents show, and two other partners have a 6 percent interest.
The revelations come as the County Council considers a lease and purchase of the building, with a possible vote Monday.
"The county got a good deal, and it doesn't matter that these people are involved," said Fred Homan, budget and finance director. He and County Attorney Virginia W. Barnhart were lead negotiators.
Ruppersberger also said he did not know of Steven Sibel's involvement. "The bottom line is, this is a good thing for our employees and the taxpayers," he said.
Homan and Barnhart said state officials steered the county into talks with Boltansky because the state had done business with him. It is common, they said, to deal only with managing partners.
But others said the Sibel and Adler families are prominent enough in Baltimore County that their participation should have been revealed earlier.
"I don't know whether or not it's a violation of the county code from an ethics standpoint, but from a public perception standpoint, it certainly sounds like something that should have been disclosed," said J. Carroll Holzer, a former county attorney who represents community groups. "It may be a good project, and the county may be getting a fantastic deal. But the involvement of people close to the administration gives them an entree that others might not have."
State officials have signed a lease for office space that will be transferred to the county after the sale. Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for the state Department of General Services, said state officials did not know who Boltansky's partners were.
"He is a good landlord on a number of other state leases," Humphrey said. "The way developers work, they have different investors with different projects."
Boltanksy, Sibel and Adler could not be reached for comment yesterday, nor could their attorney, Barry Greenberg.
The purchase of the Caldor building is one of the most complex and costly arrangements the county has undertaken in some time. Four transactions needed to complete the deal were added to the County Council's agenda for Monday night's meeting.
At a work session Tuesday, Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder asked for a full list of the partners in the project. The list was released the next day.
"The deal could be a good financial deal for the county, but do we really know who all is involved?" Bartenfelder asked. "Since it was thrown on as an addendum, I don't see why we shouldn't look at it a little more."
The deal is unusual for several reasons:
The county plans to lease the Caldor building for at least a year while $13.9 million in renovations are completed. The county is agreeing in advance to buy the building for $19 million.
The county has negotiated with a company, 6401 York Road Associates LLC, that does not own the property. That raised eyebrows in the council auditor's office, which asked in written questions, "What is the likelihood that this company will obtain ownership and complete the building as contemplated in the agreement? Has this company ever failed on any similar projects?" The building is owned by K. R. Trust One Delaware Inc., which bought it for $6.5 million in 1993.
The county is financing the purchase through more expensive borrowing than it normally uses, so it can complete the deal quicker. The county is using a financing mechanism called certificates of participation, which means it will pay an extra $420,000 in interest over 20 years.