Skyscraper for Sale
When Bob Ehrlich first ran for govenor in 2002, he pledged to help balance the budget by selling off some of the state's assets. He ran into a bit of trouble when he tried to accomplish that by selling state-owned parkland in St. Mary's County to a well-connected construction executive.
Now his latest bid, offering Baltimore's World Trade Center to the highest bidder at a time when its assessed value is half whatsome consider it should be, has raised some hackles.
State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) questioned last week whether the Ehrlich administration may have tried to deflate the value of the Inner Harbor landmark before selling it to a well-connected bidder -- a suggestion the administration strongly denied.
Two of the six bidders in the final consideration are Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and 1st Mariner Bank Chairman Edwin F. Hale, according to a source familiar with the sale who declined to be identified because the bidding process is intended to be confidential.
Both bidders have close ties to leading Maryland political figures -- Angelos was a hefty backer of Ehrlich's, while Hale has donated to both parties and is close to Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley (D). The official did not reveal the identities of the other bidders.
Kopp says state officials have refused to sign new leases or renew expiring ones, essentially devaluing the property. "It raises very serious questions in my mind," Kopp said Friday, after being briefed on the sale by state real estate officials.
"I find it disturbing that a signature building is sitting half-empty, and I don't understand why the administration would have allowed that to happen," Kopp said. "I don't know enough to accuse anyone of doing something wrong. But I am concerned about that possibility."
State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said everything his agency did to prepare the building for sale was done at the behest of the state's real estate consultants, all with the goal of maximizing the value to taxpayers.
"The goal is to effectuate the sale in the way that promotes public confidence in the process that we've gone through," Flanagan said. "That's my most important goal."
ADD: State officials have now agreed to wait until after O'Malley takes office to effectuate the sale, and Angelos has withdrawn his bid
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