Why is Angelos standing in the way of Midtown redevelopment?

March 22, 2011|By Bryan Dunn

Peter Angelos has a long history of philanthropy and has amply demonstrated his love for Baltimore over the years. Why, then, is he standing in the way of the desperately needed redevelopment of the State Center project?

Our community group, Midtown Matters, has the goal of making Baltimore a better place to live. Our current focus is on the State Center project. The working-class communities surrounding the proposed revitalization area have worked tirelessly, for more than five years and through hundreds of meetings, to make this project a reality. The state undertook an exhaustive vetting process to decide on the best course of action, and what made the most sense was not to abandon the campus in order to scatter state workers across downtown but to partner in an 80 percent private/20 percent public investment mix to keep the agencies there — intact and concentrated.

Meanwhile, not only would the office buildings be revitalized, but private dollars would be leveraged to create a mixed-use community at State Center — not to mention converting 28 acres of non-tax-paying land into tax-producing property in the tens of millions of dollars.

And our communities were promised this economic, cultural engine, with hundreds of jobs, new workforce housing, infrastructure improvements, and new stores and restaurants. We envisioned a vibrant community with an emphasis on transit and green building — a model of Smart Growth right in our midst. We've worked hard to bring it home ever since, with groundbreaking slated for this spring.

We've missed that milestone now, and we're due to miss the next one because of this lawsuit that stands in the way of our community's progress. Certainly, Mr. Angelos and the other sponsors of legal opposition to State Center were aware of the project's momentum over the last five years, and of the millions of dollars the state has spent researching the best option. Yet they waited until months before groundbreaking to bring it to a grinding halt.

What we're offered in place of this revitalization is a group of vacant, outdated buildings with dilapidated asphalt parking lots — prime real estate for the city's next open-air drug market — on acres of non-tax-producing land, as well as the loss of $1 billion in private investment, and the crushing of Baltimore's reputation as a place to do business.

Keep in mind that the state committed to no net loss of government jobs downtown. The State Center project will not impact downtown jobs. It would appear, then, that the downtown landlords would kill this project, irreparably damage our communities and move the state workers downtown to their own buildings to pocket the rent themselves.

The mere idea that downtown landlords are justified in taking current jobs away from Midtown to fill vacancies in their privately owned buildings is offensive and disturbing. Why is Midtown less deserving than downtown? Why are we unworthy of healthy, vibrant neighborhoods that we've worked so hard to build?

Likewise, we've seen Mr. Angelos' lawsuits hold up the Superblock project for over four years — another use of our courts to suppress competition. We simply can't afford to have every worthwhile project in our city stalled for years on end.

For us, the State Center project is so much more than "office space." It's the personal investment we've made as individuals who have worked to buy our own homes and improve our communities with the sweat of our brows. It's the opportunity to leverage our assets — the state workers who are already here — and connect our neighborhoods that have suffered decades of neglect, poor planning and crime. It's an opportunity for Baltimore City to generate millions in tax revenue, enhance and expand its transit system, and anchor our struggling neighborhoods.

Our neighborhoods are home to the community leaders who worked with Jim Rouse to make the Inner Harbor possible. They are the same communities that saw the importance of building a stadium to keep the Orioles in Baltimore and bring the Ravens to town. These people have always understood the bigger picture, and we ask that our downtown counterparts consider the same — and do the right thing for Baltimore City.

Bryan Dunn of Seton Hill is a founder of Midtown Matters. Contributing to this article are fellow Midtown Matters founders Kevin Macartney of Seton Hill, Brian Morrison of Reservoir Hill and Thomas Ventimiglia of Bolton Hill. Information available at facebook.com/Midtownmatters.

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