County commits $450,000 for UMBC research facility Revenue, jobs cited in approval of funds

September 10, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Despite opposition from neighbors, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden has committed $450,000 toward construction of the $80 million research park at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

UMBC officials said yesterday that the county funds represent the first commitment of public money for the research center, which is to be built on 36 acres on the southern tip of the 500-acre Catonsville campus.

The funds will cover one-third of the initial costs for roads and water and sewer improvements. UMBC needs the funds to secure a $1.4 million state loan from the Maryland Industrial and Commercial Redevelopment Fund to help pay the total $4.8 million expense for roads and utility lines, said Mark Behm, vice president of administrative affairs at UMBC.

The proposed center promises the county $2 million in added annual property tax revenues and employment for up to 2,000 people, UMBC officials say.

Mr. Hayden acknowledged community opposition to the project yesterday, but said he agreed to commit the money, which will come from next year's budget, because of the jobs and tax revenues the project will bring.

"We have to have a balance between the people who need these jobs and the impact such projects have on the communities," he said.

As news of the $80 million project has seeped out to community groups, some have come forward to object.

Residents complain that the project will increase traffic and alter thecharacter of their streets and neighborhoods, many of which were there before the campus was built in in the early 1960s.

"In these times of economic uncertainty, there's no reason why the taxpayers should be subsidizing this kind of activity," said Kathleen Valdaras, president of the Maiden Choice Community Association, a group representing 2,500 homes neighboring the campus.

The project's critics worry that it could be a white elephant.

They say that nationwide, an estimated 50 percent or more of such research and development parks fail and point out that the University of Maryland Foundation is owed $800,000 on its first research park -- 466 acres in Bowie -- that after a decade of planning has attracted only one tenant.

"By putting these commercial enterprises in there, it crosses over the line from being an academic institution to being a commercialized area," said William Bauman, past president of the Southwest Coalition, which also represents area communities.

But Mark Behm, vice president for administrative affairs at UMBC, said the project will revitalize the area and has the support of a number of business and community-based groups, including the Catonsville Chamber of Commerce.

"There is certainly vocal opposition, but there's a lot of support out there as well," he said.

He said university officials plan to request more money from the state Board of Public Works in November and hope to break ground next spring.

Frank Traynor, a spokesman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said the governor is undecided about including money for the project in his proposals for the General Assembly.

Plans call for 12 buildings, averaging three stories each, to be builtby 2002. The complex is expected to employ 2,000 people, Mr. Behm said.

Private companies would rent state land but finance their own buildings. Westinghouse is slated to be a tenant in a building that would accommodate 300 employees. A smaller building for smaller and mid-sized research firms would house 150 workers.

A third building could house the proposed Maryland Biotechnology Center now being promoted by state economic development officials.

Mary Lou Baker, a spokeswoman for the Department of Economic and Employment Development, said Governor Schaefer is appointing a committee to decide whether the $22 million biotech center should be at UMBC or at the Johns Hopkins University Bayview research Campus in East Baltimore.

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