Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden has expressed cautious support for Worldbridge Centre, a trade center and theme park proposed for 1,000 acres in Middle River.
Differing from his predecessor's enthusiasm for the ambitious project, Hayden said yesterday he will support Worldbridge only after community concerns are satisfied and the New York developer proves he has the money to build it.
"We want to feel confident that he can do it," Hayden said. "We're past the point of cheerleading. We have to see if it's do-able."
During the heat of this year's election, then-County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen put the brakes on the zoning necessary for Worldbridge, after a public hearing at which residents complained the zoning was too permissive and the plans for Worldbridge too sketchy.
And in the midst of uncertainty over Worldbridge, state highway officials canceled plans for a Dec. 2 public hearing on proposed alignments for the extension of Md. 43 east from Interstate 95 to Eastern Boulevard. The road project is considered a key to Worldbridge's success.
Chris Delaporte, director of development for the Worldbridge project, could not be reached for comment, but earlier acknowledged he and Dean Gitter, the New York developer who developed the concept two years ago, had met with Hayden Dec. 14.
"He really didn't have much to say," Delaporte said. "He said he would get back to us."
At the Dec. 14 meeting, Gitter and Delaporte presented the most detailed plans to date of what they hope to create with Worldbridge, said several people who attended the meeting.
Sketches of a mammoth trade center were shown to Hayden, County Council Chairman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger 3rd, D-3rd; Councilman Vince Gardina, D-5th; county Planning Director P. David Fields and County Attorney Arnold Jablon.
"It was flashy," said Fields. "In architectural terms, it was sort of sexy."
However, the developer did not leave any sketches behind and no official development plans have been submitted to the county.
The first stage of the development is supposed to be the trade center, followed by a shopping mall and hotel, Hayden said.
Last would come the 100-acre theme park, which Gitter is now calling World Park. Earlier descriptions of the project called first for a China USA theme park, with replicas of the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. Later, Gitter was calling the theme park Asia USA.
"It's supposed to be a combination of Williamsburg, Va., and the Epcot Center in Florida," Hayden said. "That's the way they presented it to me."
Hayden said that, if the developer can alleviate community concerns -- fears such as the project is too big for the area and would overburden roads and sewers -- and prove they have the finances to build it, Worldbridge would be a "non-issue."
"Then it would be a win-win situation," he said.
Hayden did say he would leave intact the 12-member Citizens Advisory Committee that Rasmussen set up in October. He said it was up to Gitter and the project manager, the Westinghouse Corp., to work with the committee to resolve the zoning needed before the project can go forward.
Jean Chryst, a real estate agent from the area and member of the advisory committee, said she thinks most of the concerns can be resolved and that most people support the project, since it promises to provide thousands of jobs and a boost to the eastern Baltimore County economy.