Board Deals State a Blow in Baltimore Lease Dispute

    This story has been updated to reflect an uncertain hearing date and to note that the state Board of Public Works is under no legal obligation to reverse its decision.

    One day after a divided Board of Public Works voted to sign a controversial 10-year contract to keep the Maryland Insurance Administration at its downtown Baltimore headquarters, the Maryland State Board of Contract Appeals issued a decision that could invalidate that lease.

    The decision came down in a complicated battle over where the insurance agency should be housed for the next decade — which led to a tense 90-minute hearing in the Board of Public Works Wednesday.

    In 2018, the Department of General Services awarded a 10-year contract to move the MIA from St. Paul Plaza, in downtown Baltimore, to Montgomery Park, south of the city center.

    But a year later, DGS invalidated the lease, citing Maryland Insurance Administration officials’ reluctance to move, and issued a no-bid contract to keep the agency at St. Paul Plaza. Montgomery Park challenged that decision, filing an appeal with the contract appeals board.

    Even with the appeal pending, the Board of Public Works voted 2-1 Wednesday to approve the DGS request to keep the insurance administration in downtown Baltimore. Then on Thursday, the Board of Contract Appeals, without explanation, denied a motion by DGS to dismiss Montgomery Park’s appeal of the new lease decision, and suggested a hearing date of Jan. 29 to consider the merits of Montgomery Park’s complaint. No agreement has been reached among the parties to set the hearing for that date.

    “We are pleased that the Board of Contract Appeals has scheduled a hearing on the merits of our protest, despite the BPW’s action yesterday to award the sole source lease to the incumbent landlord in the face of these protests,” Sam Himmelrich, president of Himmelrich Associates, the Montgomery Park landlord, said in a statement Thursday.

    Even if the Board of Contract Appeals sides with Montgomery Park in its appeal, the Board of Public Works is under no obligation to reverse its decision to award the new 10-year lease to the owners of St. Paul Plaza.

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    Josh Kurtz
    Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.