Thursday, January 12, 2017

State offices at Metro West?

After the Governor pulled the plug on the State Office redevelopment project it didn't take Caves Valley long to publicly float the idea of putting the State Offices into the currently vacant former federal office building, initially used by Social Security, a complex known as Metro West. Last year Caves Valley bought the 1.1 million square feet behemoth at public auction. The 11 acre Metro West could almost swallow the entire State Center office complex with its three buildings and about 1.2 million sf on 28 acres.
Metro West: 1.1 million square feet of heated vacant space (SUN photo)
Caves Valley also thinks to attract the Circuit Court of Baltimore. The court in its current downtown home in the Court House East has monumental charm and history but is regularly the topic of complaints how it isn't up to the task of running a modern court operation.

To put the 3,000 to 4,000 State employees stuck in increasingly obsolete buildings in what is known as State Center into the nearby Metro West is quite obvious. After the Governor sued to sever from the development team that had proposed a $1.5 billion mixed use redevelopment with new offices for the State workers one has to wonder, in fact, if this idea hasn't been already behind Cave Valley's  bid last year since it was already apparent then that Hogan lacked enthusiasm for the State Center development concept he had inherited, even though fellow Republican Bob Ehrlich had originally initiated it in an effort of a public private partnership that would make best use of the two existing State assets of land and subway in one place (TOD).
State Center Office building 1

Le roi est mort, vive le roy, is a pragmatic thought for a developer that sits on a huge complex in search of a use. Already Catherine Pugh is zooming in more on retaining the State workers in the City than on a specific place for this to happen, carefully navigating treacherous waters. Either way, the City could see a major investment and the removal of a large "dead-zone". In the case of Metro West the vacant complex is really dead, in the case of State Center the area is pretty dead even with the three main buildings occupied because with 28 acres so much of the land remains unused.

What is somewhat curious, though, is that Caves Valley's first investment in Metro West appears to be a new parking garage about which the SUN reported already in June of last year. The developer reportedly asked the architecture firm Design Collective to design it. One should think that the underutilized giant Lexington Market garage could easily meet the parking needs of Metro West, just as they did for Social Security workers. I suppose urban planners just have to realize that the market hasn't bought yet into the concept of a post-car Baltimore with shared autonomous fleet cars and millennials who don't want to drive everywhere, no matter that the trend seems to heading that way and new parking garages could be investment ruins before they will be amortized.
State Center, Health and Human Services

With the State calling the shots and being so set against the State Center plan that the Gov isn't fearing litigation, the question whether Baltimore would benefit more from a new State Center than from a revived Metro Center isn't even on the table any more. If one takes the Governor's assurance that the Stadium Authority has been ordered to look for alternatives to the State Center project on face value, both properties, Metro West and State Center could be in play, even though MSA certainly can't simply pull a new concept for State Center out of some hat, not even Peter Franchot's old Arena hat.
State Center: Office building #2

Those who never believed that Baltimore could sustain new office space at State Center without killing downtown (Peter Angelos never tired of that claim and is largely responsible for the delay on the project that dragged it beyond O'Malley's term) will certainly not buy into the notion that Metro West should be added to the mix.  Clearly, the driver for the large private investment in State Center was driven by the guarantee that the State would bring over 3,000 users from day one. If those folks settle into the catacombs of Metro West, what would be the economic engine for State Center? Metro West as the home for State workers would just make it even  more likely that the communities around State Center will stare into even "deader" 28 acres for a long time to come, not to mention that the subway station will then be entirely isolated: TWD (transit without development).

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA