Howard expects economy to go better with Coke

October 12, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

As far as Howard County is concerned, things will indeed go better with Coke, local business people say. Much, much better.

It's not merely the $4 million a year the company is expected to add to the county budget by way of corporate property taxes or the 700 new workers who will be assigned to Coke's state-of-the-art production and distribution facility in Dorsey.

It's also what Rouse Co. vice president Alton J. Scavo ecstatically calls "the wonderful spinoffs" -- a new economic vitality created by an increased demand for local goods and services combined with help for schools and non-profits from "an established, world-class corporate citizen."

"The icing on the cake," said Mr. Scavo, "is that this comes at a time when we are really tired of hearing bad news. It would be wonderful news in any economic environment, but it is terrific news in this one."

Henry Schimberg, president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola Enterprises, probably couldn't say it any better. He will join Gov. William Donald Schaefer and County Executive Charles I. Ecker this morning in making the news official.

Until now, news that Coca-Cola Enterprises Northeast will build a $100 million to $200 million syrup and bottling plant on a 120-acre site at Parkway Corporate Center east of U.S. 1 near the Anne Arundel County line has been unofficial.

The site is expected to become what former owner Joseph G. Svatos calls a "Coca-Cola Campus," housing the company's regional headquarters, as well as one of the largest manufacturing operations in the state. "It will be very much high-tech and state of the art," Mr. Svatos said. "Very attractive and very aesthetic."

The Svatos Co. sold the property to Coca-Cola Enterprises just before noon Friday for $15.2 million, ending 24 hours of what Mr. Svatos described as "an emotional roller-coaster ride."

The Svatos company and Coke went through a "dry closing" two weeks ago in which all the papers were signed but no money was exchanged. For a while Thursday morning, it looked as if the deal wouldn't go through.

Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, "was the wild card in the whole process," Mr. Svatos said. She could have prevented the council from acting to approve a $5 million reduction in water- and sewer-connection charges at the site by demanding that the council wait until after an Oct. 19 public hearing.

But after talking with Mr. Svatos, local Coke officials, Chamber of Commerce representatives, the governor, and the county executive Thursday morning, Ms. Pendergrass became convinced that it was essential to hold a public hearing and vote to approve the reduced charge immediately. The council did exactly that and 24 hours later Coke wired the $15.2 million purchase price to the Svatos Co.

When the Svatos Co. "was approached five or six months ago by a prospect who wanted at least 100 and up to 120 acres, we didn't know who the prospect was," said company vice president David R. Paulson.

"We were very excited" when the prospect was identified as Cola-Cola Enterprises three weeks later, Mr. Paulson said. "It was someone we knew could go to settlement. We knew we would have the cooperation of the county and the state."

Both Mr. Svatos, the company president, and Mr. Paulson, were still wearing smiles late Friday reflecting what Mr. Svatos said was "a deep sense of accomplishment in having worked as a team" with state and county officials to conclude "the deal of the decade."

"I can't say enough good things about the way everybody pulled together," Mr. Paulson said. "Coke is a very sophisticated buyer. Everything went fairly smoothly, all in all."

For its part, the county not only reduced the in-aid-of-construction charge by $5 million, but has already approved many of the plans for the new facility. The early approval means that Coke can begin construction within the next two weeks.

The new facility is expected to be fully operational within two years. It would replace Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. as the county's largest taxpayer and rank fourth behind Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Giant Food Inc. and the Rouse Co. in the number of employees.

If half of the expected 900 employees live in the county in an average-priced $184,000 home and earn the county median household income of $54,348, the county would collect $366,849 more in local income taxes and $857,808 more in personal property taxes.

John K. Lea, owner of J.K.'s Pub in Wilde Lake, says that while getting Coca-Cola to come here is a "very, very good move for the county," he doubts it will have much direct impact on village shops and restaurants in Columbia.

"There will always be those who seek out the good neighborhood place," he says, "but we are really too far away to attract much business. It could spawn some rather interesting places along Route 1," however.

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