Worldbridge Centre, a mammoth Asian-theme cultural park and trade center proposed for eastern Baltimore County, has lost critical support among county officials, making the project tougher, if not impossible, to carry out.
Discouraged by the lack of concrete signs that developer Dean L. Gitter can deliver the 1,000-acre project he unveiled in May 1988, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden and County Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th, have decided not to support special zoning for Worldbridge.
The decision is an about-face for Hayden, the county's new executive who hadn't embraced the project as had his predecessor, then-Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, but had supported it with qualifications.
Whether the project could proceed with its current zoning is unclear. Gitter in the past has said he needed special zoning suited to the project, a combination amusement park-trade center with office, retail and housing, too.
Most of the land in question is already zoned for manufacturing uses, which would allow the office buildings, hotels and some housing.
It would not provide for the most intriguing aspect of the project, however, the cultural theme park. The park plans call for a replica of Mount Fuji in Japan, a Hindu temple from India, elephants from Thailand, Buddhas from Korea, a "Pirates of the South China Sea" ride, Arabian horse shows and an exotic
theater that would simulate a rough ride on a camel.
More important, the lack of government support and the death of the special zoning would likely make financing even harder to obtain.
Gardina, pressured by constituents to fight the project in his district, said in a prepared statement that he opposes the project overall.
Without support from him or Hayden, the special zoning regulations will likely never come to a vote before the County Council, whose approval would be needed.
Hayden told Gitter of his position in a phone call late yesterday. Nevertheless the developer apparently believes the project can go forward.
"We continue to be committed to the successful completion of this project," Gitter said last night through his spokeswoman in Baltimore.
Gitter canceled a trip to Baltimore scheduled for today and chose to speak only in a brief prepared statement.
Gitter has said for months that he can't provide officials with a specific plan nor can he move forward until the county approves the zoning changes. Also, Gitter has said he needs assurance that the state will build the planned, but still unfunded, extension of White Marsh Boulevard from busy Interstate 95 to the Worldbridge site in Middle River.
Westinghouse Electric Corp. is also involved as a partner in Worldbridge.
Worldbridge spawned skeptics from the start and has progressed slowly, in the public's eye at least. But this week's developments represent major change in the matter.
Just last week, Gitter said in a telephone interview that he had written and spoken assurances of support from county government.
However, Hayden said last week the developer "needs $50 million to $100 million and we're concerned that he can raise that."
In a brief statement issued yesterday, Hayden said he "has seen no indication from the Worldbridge Group that their project has obtained financing or is progressing in this direction."
Hayden said in his statement that he supports projects that will provide jobs for Baltimore County, "the kind of good jobs that our people need and deserve."
"We are willing to support appropriate zoning legislation when some person or group, including the Worldbridge group, comes forward with a plan which will provide these jobs," Hayden said.
The executive said he will now become more active in trying to find a viable developer for the land, which lies between Eastern Boulevard and Md. 40 across from Martin State Airport.
This loosening of support by county government officials comes just a month after state government officials issued a glowing report on the economic impact Worldbridge could bring to economically depressed eastern Baltimore County.
The state Department of Economic and Employment Development reported that the proposed $500 million project would generatemore than $1.7 billion a year in economic "ripples" during normal operations and lead to the creation of 28,000 jobs statewide. Many figures in the report, however, were based on Gitter's own estimates.