Quick action to salvage Coke bid urged

October 06, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The Ecker administration last night asked the County Council to hold an emergency legislative session Thursday morning to help salvage what may be a rapidly unraveling deal with Coca-Cola.

Although never talked about officially, sources close to the negotiations said Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. had signed a letter of intent to buy the 120-acre Parkway Corporate Center for $16.8 million and build a 650,000-square-foot regional headquarters and bottling plant there.

The letter of intent expired Sept. 30 without a deal being consummated. If a deal can still be achieved, Coca-Cola would build a $100 million facility here that would serve the east coast, employ 300 to 500 workers, and consolidate several smaller bottling plants in the mid-Atlantic region.

The question now is whether Svatos Co., which owns the property east of U.S. 1 near proposed Route 100 and the Anne Arundel County line, can stay in conversation with Coke long enough for the county to make the deal the company wants.

"It very well could be a day-to-day thing" as to whether the company choose to throw in the towel and look elsewhere, County Executive Charles I. Ecker said last night. "It's up to the owner and Coke."

The issue still to be determined is what the county will charge Coca-Cola to bring water to the site. The cost under the current fee schedule is $9 million.

Coke apparently thinks that is too much and Mr. Ecker tends to agree. "Coke said they will pay the actual cost," Mr. Ecker said. He said he is working on a new fee scale for large commercial users and hopes to present the new scale to the council for action Thursday morning.

Council members have not been a party to the negotiations. They reluctantly agreed to hold a legislative session at 11 a.m. Thursday, but did not agree to vote on any legislation that might come before them then.

Council members C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said they would have to be persuaded that an emergency exists in order for them to vote on legislation Thursday. Councilman Gray will be away in London, regardless.

"I want to help make this process work," Ms. Pendergrass said. "But it is very awkward not to be given real details. I understand that negotiations have to be done in private. The problem is where do you draw the line between private negotiations and public government action?"

Mr. Gray wants the legislation to be introduced Thursday, heard at a public hearing on Oct. 19, and voted on at a legislative session following the hearing. He and Ms. Pendergrass say it is not the content of the legislation, but the process that concerns them. "It is important that the county offer some incentives to attract good-neighbor firms like Coca-Cola to come here," Mr. Gray said. "In the long run, the several million dollars in connection charges [if waived in whole or in part] would be repaid the county many fold."

"Ideally, we would have time" to wait for a hearing until Oct. 19, said Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, "but I'm not so sure we have it. We will find out hopefully a drop-dead time on Thursday."

Mr. Ecker said the administration may indeed request a vote Thursday. "I would hope we could reach final resolution" with Coke by then, he said. "Time is of the essence."

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