November 16, 2016 10:18 am ET
No pulse detected for Kamenetz’s “prime” realty project could be DOA
Film and photo by Buzz Beeler: Anyone see any signs of life?
Towson Row, the new (Kevin Kamenetz) vision for the already logistical nightmare that is Towson, hit a proverbial brick wall (or should that be a rock wall?) and is now DOA.
In plain language, Towson Row in its present form now lies dormant, looking like a festering sore in need of treatment STAT. What’s surprising it’s been like that for a about a year.
My involvement with this all started with a phone call from a well-known political operative.
He laid out the whole story, which seemed too good (or should that be too bad) to be true. As a responsible journalist, I needed to be sure, or at least I needed enough evidence to support what we in the cop world call probable cause, or PC for short.
My source had not even seen the hole in the middle of Towson, yet he described it to a tee—the who, what, when, where, and why.
With all of that information, I started my search for answers with a phone call to the contractor, Whiting-Turner.
The first call produced the typical run-around, as I was told I needed more information on the project. The second call was more productive … if you call getting the phone slammed in your ear with the angry words, “I’m not talking about that!” a move in the forward direction.
So I called my editor and he said that I should keep digging to confirm.
I then sent the following emails out hoping someone would utter something.
The following was sent to email@example.com:
I am an investigative journalist. I have been told that construction has been halted by W&T due to ground structural issues.
What are your plans moving forward?
I have spoken to numerous people regarding this issue, including officials from W&T among others.
Thank you for your time.
The silence, yet again, was deafening.
Typically, when I receive no answer, it means that someone has his/her hand in the proverbial cookie jar. With that in mind, I decided to take a look for myself. I gathered the tools of my trade—pad, pen, notebook, and two cameras—and drove out to Towson, where I grew up and worked as a young cop.
I was shocked at the expansion—even on a Sunday afternoon the only place to park was in one of the multiple parking garages. Since I had to lug a video news camera around, I asked a gentleman that had just pulled into one of the offices encapsulated by the Towson Row construction if I could park there while I shot some video.
His response was typical of most people: he wanted to know what was up.
I told him why I was there, and we began a nice-but-brief conversation. Basically, he said that the Towson Row project was a mess. With that in mind, I pulled my SUV into his small lot and began to take video of the mess.
Looking at the signs posted along the gate told me a lot, with a strong vibe of “Towson Row is now DOA,” or, if you prefer, kaputski.
But I needed more, so I called my source and explained that he was correct—I could not find even a shovel left at the site. Whoever dug the hole pulled out lock-stock-and-barrel.
I asked my source if he could hook me up with the man (i.e., the source of his information) so I could put this saga to bed with some real confirmation.
As the saying goes, “Ask and ye shall receive.”
My source gave me the contact information for a really nice gentleman: Gary Bernstein, a prominent Towson Attorney.
Mr. Bernstein told me that the project had been dormant for about a year with the entire area fenced off and surrounded by concrete barriers.
One particular day, he ran into a couple of W&T people who told him the project was over and explained why it was over.
It seems that, to accommodate parking for this metropolis, W&T had to dig deep. When they did that, they ran into a rock wall.
Some might ask how could that shut down a $350 million project in light of today’s highly sophisticated world of design, engineering, and construction.
The answer to that is not hard (or, at least, not as hard as the rock) but it all boils down (or crumbles) to big bucks.
From what Mr. Bernstein told me, the cost factor to get through that rock would put the project over the cliff with budget concerns.
He questioned, and we should all think about this, how many partners are in the CVP and how much money was already spent on the land and the plans only to find out that the projected cost could explode.
Mr. Bernstein said it would make sense to cut losses and abandon the idea, which he understands, but his main concern are his clients that have no place to park when they come to his office.
“If one of my clients needs to see me, I have to be there, and parking is always a concern for everyone.”
Mr. Bernstein went on to state that he has been in touch with both the Kamenetz administration and Councilman Marks.
Mr. Bernstein understands that a project in what ABC Channel 2 News called a –mini city can go wrong, but he expects that someone would at least have the courtesy to open up the roads by removing the barriers.
I asked Mr. Bernstein how long the construction has been like that, and confirmed that is has been about a year.
Compare the video in the ABC 2 segment to the one I shot and see, almost a year later, any pulse:
Now, on to my need to get to the bottom of this mess. To that end, I sent the following PIA to both Mr. Don Mohler the county executive’s chief of staff and another (same wording) to Councilman David Marks:
Mr. Don Mohler
Chief of Staff
Baltimore County Government
Towson, MD 21204
November 14, 2016
Dear Mr. Mohler:
Pursuant to the Maryland Public Records Act, State Government Article §§10-611 to 628, I request access to and copies of documents showing
I agree to pay reasonable duplication fees for the processing of the request up to $30.00. If the fee exceeds this amount please call me.
If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you justify all deletions by reference to specific exemptions of the act, in writing.
I look forward to receiving the records promptly. Thank you for your cooperation. If you have any questions regarding this request, please email me at the above address.
If applicable, copies may be emailed.
The following information is requested:
1) All emails, memos, letters, notes or any and all correspondence with any member of Baltimore County Government, at any level, including the County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, concerning the Towson Row Development.
2) All emails, memos, letters, notes or any and all correspondence with any member of the Whiting and Turner Company, the Caves Valley Partners and Baltimore County Government Official’s at any level concerning the Towson Row Development.
So, we’ll just have to wait and see just how this unfolded. Hopefully I get what I am seeking.
(Just to note, I am not holding my breath…)
One more thing I found out from talking to another businessman during my trip Towson—many of the offices in the, in my opinion, WAY OVERDEVELOPED Towson area are still vacant. Some of the main reasons for that predicament are the complete gridlock and the raucous college students who create havoc on the weekends taking over Towson, as this Sun story indicates.
I was told businesses are moving away from the congestion and “party school” atmosphere to places like Lutherville, Cockeysville, and other parts of the county where there is no gridlock and parking is plentiful.
My brother still lives in Towson, and he said that trying to get anywhere is a nightmare.
All Mr. Bernstein wants is for someone to take accountability and, at the very least, open up the roads for the people who still do business in Towson. By the way any attorney that would come into the office to meet a client is a hard working man.
Personally, I would go a step farther and demand someone clean up the mess.
Will anyone step forward and be held accountable? Again, I’m not holding my breath…