February 2, 2011

State Center lawsuit amended to expand claims of no competitive bidding

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Aerial view of the blocks slated for State Center development.

A group of downtown Baltimore property owners accusing the state of circumventing the state’s procurement laws to award contracts for the $1.5 billion State Center development project is broadening their complaint to question the award of $33 million in state bonds to build a parking garage on site.

The original complaint, filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court in December, asks the court to halt the large scale development project because the project was not competitively bid and offers the state dubious financial returns. The property owners also felt that the state’s plans to move office buildings and employees away from downtown Baltimore would exacerbate low occupancy in downtown buildings.

The lawsuit has effectively put the entire project on hold.

Plans for the eight-block public-private State Center project, which would build new office space for several government agencies south of Bolton Hill, have been in progress since 2005.

Attorney Alan Rifkin, representing the group of property owners who have sued the state and the developers, has argued that the coalition of developers for the project was chosen improperly. The developers involved in the project responded to a request for qualifications – abbreviated as RFQ – where they essentially sent the state their resumes. They did not submit bids, stating what they could do and how much it would cost, which Rifkin has argued is standard for construction projects.

The amended complaint argues that the same logic – and lack of attention to procurement law – applied to $33 million in financing for the complex’s parking garage that was approved by the Board of Public Works in December. At that meeting, the complaint states, state officials represented that the Maryland Economic Development Corporation and the State Center developer group would be constructing the parking garage. The garage project should have been put out for public bid, the complaint states.

Plaintiff spokesman Ramsey Flynn said that this shows the precedent of awarding contracts without getting competitive bids continued throughout the project, up until it was halted by the lawsuit.

“It’s further telling the developers they can choose who they want,” Flynn said. “It shows a pattern of persistence in disregarding the laws that they are obligated to follow.”

The amended complaint also questions the state’s timing in naming State Center a transit-oriented development. Transit-oriented developments are specially designated projects that maximize public transportation, bicycling and walking, and must be designated as such with a recommendation from the Smart Growth Subcabinet, and official designations from the Maryland Transportation Department and the local government.

According to the complaint, the designation must be finalized before the project starts. The Transportation Department gave its designation Oct. 19, and the Baltimore mayor gave her designation Nov. 5. The complaint argues that this was done only because of the threat of a lawsuit.

The amended complaint also adds a new plaintiff to the case. David and Dad’s, a breakfast and lunch restaurant on North Charles Street, has added its backing to the lawsuit. According to a press release, the restaurant is mainly protesting the impact the development will have on businesses already downtown. Other plaintiffs include St. Paul Office Tower, LLC; Lexington Charles Limited Partnership; 301 Charles Street, LLC; Park Charles Apartments Associates, LLC; Park Charles Office Associates, LLC; 501 St. Paul Street, LLC; St. Paul & Franklin, LLC; Robopark, LLC; Charles Plaza, LLC; 39 W. Lexington, LLC; Baltimore Condo 2-8, LLC; Fayette Garage, LLC; Charles Towers, LLC; The Marlboro Classic, LP; and Redwood Square Apartments, LP.

Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said they received the amended complaint and are reviewing it.

The state has filed a motion to dismiss the initial complaint, and it has not been ruled on.