State Center project will waste taxpayer funds, kill downtown

July 13, 2011

For reasons best known to The Sun, its coverage of the sparsely attended pep rally for State Center neglected to include any meaningful comment from the project's primary public opponents, the Coalition to Save Downtown Baltimore.

That's unfortunate, because the local politics of the moment will be fleeting. What matters in the long run will be the adverse total effect of adding over 1 million square feet of unnecessary and highly taxpayer-subsidized office space in midtown when there is already 2 million square feet of vacant space in the downtown business district.

What a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer funds — all to simply satisfy a vocal political constituency.

Since The Sun declined to publish any significant part of our response, we'll repeat it here:

It's no surprise that the hand-picked beneficiaries of this multi-million dollar taxpayer giveaway are dancing in the streets. They didn't have to compete for anything, and it's costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to a study issued last week by the Maryland Public Policy Institute — a well-respected, independent think tank — the first phase of this project alone will cost the taxpayers over $127 million. And that figure does not include any of the costs that will result from diverting businesses and offices from the downtown business district.

It also doesn't include all of the various phases of the project. When all of that is factored in, the taxpayers will be footing the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars more.

The whole problem is that there has never been a competitive bid for any part of this massive state construction project. It may sound good to some local politicians to funnel those funds to their community, but we all pay dearly when the competitive bidding laws are not followed. Those laws were meant to prevent just this kind of thing from happening.

Downtown Baltimore is the heart of the city, and it already has over 2 million square feet of vacant office space. This strains downtown businesses and restaurants, many of which are already struggling mightily. This massive taxpayer-funded project is hard to justify from any perspective.

We'd also like to add this note in response to some critics' new efforts. Contrary to the misrepresentations made by some advocates for State Center, the MPPI study was conducted entirely independently of the coalition. The coalition did not fund it in any way, shape or form.

Again, our coalition is not about any single individual. We are dozens of local businesses, property owners, retailers and restaurateurs throughout the entire business district, extending all the way to Little Italy. Our position matters, too, and it should have been included in The Sun's one-sided story.

Ramsey Flynn, Baltimore

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