Delegate opposes sale of World Trade Center

Franchot says Assembly should study state's plans

November 05, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A legislative leader suggested yesterday that the General Assembly could block the Ehrlich administration's plans to sell Baltimore's World Trade Center in what he characterized as a "fire sale."

Del. Peter Franchot, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, said at a hearing of his panel in Annapolis that now is the wrong time to sell the state-owned skyscraper because of a glut of office space in downtown Baltimore.

Franchot urged Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan not to move forward with that transaction and other large asset sales until the legislature can examine them.

"If there's a review, that's fine. No review, I think you're going to have problems coming out of the legislature," the Montgomery County Democrat said.

Legislative disapproval could throw a crimp into the Ehrlich administration's hopes to raise up to $100 million for the transportation trust fund from the sale of department assets. The proposed sale has been delayed by storm damage from Tropical Storm Isabel, which destroyed most of the electrical, mechanical and telecommunications systems in the basement of the tower.

Flanagan said he wants the Maryland Port Administration, which owns and occupies space in the 30-story World Trade Center, to concentrate on running the port.

"Operating an office building is not their strong suit," he said.

Flanagan said he found that out early in his tenure when port administration officials asked what to do about a tenant - the company run by indicted money manager Nathan A. Chapman Jr. - that had fallen six months behind on its rent of $25,000 a month.

Flanagan said that was the "wrong question" for officials to be asking and that a private investor could do a better job.

"The World Trade Center is a big distraction to the port administration," he said.

Franchot said he was concerned that the state was in a rush to sell the 26-year-old tower, which it built for $22 million when the Inner Harbor was in the early stages of development, for fiscal reasons not related to the department's needs.

"The legislature can certainly raise questions about the terms and the timing and the wisdom of moving forward with a sale of this size without a real plan as to what purpose it serves other than a ideological one," the lawmaker said.

Franchot suggested that if the legislature disapproves, it could put language in next year's budget preventing the state from spending money to sell the building, which brings in $1.5 million to $2 million in annual rental income.

In another transportation-related development, Flanagan told the subcommittee that the state plans to replace its paratransit contractor for the Baltimore region in July instead of at the expiration of its contract Jan. 1.

Flanagan said Baltimore-based Yellow Transportation/Connex, the current contractor, had agreed to a six-month extension of its contract to provide transportation services to disabled Marylanders.

The extension will allow more time for the transition to the two new providers awarded the contract - MV Transportation of Fairfield, Calif., and Laidlaw Transit Services of Overland Park, Kan. The extended pact will also give Yellow time to appeal the award to the State Board of Contract Appeals.

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