Old industrial buildings vacant new ones scarce Situation discourages new business

January 21, 1993|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

A lack of modern, vacant industrial buildings in Carroll County occasionally makes attracting new businesses difficult, county economic development officials say.

At least 20 vacant industrial buildings currently exist in Carroll, but only two of them -- the Telemechanique building on Bethel Road and the Eldersburg Business Center -- are fully modern facilities, said William Jenne, administrator of the county's economic development office.

Buildings usually need at least 20-foot high ceilings, two truck-height loading docks, few columns or support beams in the middle of rooms and industrial water, sewer and power facilities to be considered modern, he said.

"In my opinion, there's a real dearth of vacant, modern industrial buildings in Carroll County," Mr. Jenne said. "It's difficult to speculate on how much impact not having vacant modern facilities in place is having on our ability to help businesses locate in the county.

"But there are a lot of other advantages."

Those advantages include easily available and developable land at low prices, inexpensive buildings, low taxes and a skilled labor force, he said.

However, those advantages often are difficult to translate into a hard sell for the county.

"It's harder to sell a cornfield that they [the prospective owners] have to visualize what will be there," Mr. Jenne said. "[Companies] don't want to be put in the position of not being in complete control of the situation.

"Finding a facility that meets their needs makes the transition less painful."

Businesses that wait to start looking for appropriate facilities complicate the issue even further, he said.

"In many cases, firms in search of a new facility start at the 11th hour," Mr. Jenne said. "They may have been studying Carroll County for several years, but they have not chosen to work with a real estate company or the [county] economic development office until they are within one year of physically moving."

A few of the properties have been standing vacant for years, Mr. Jenne said.

"Several have been here as long as I've been, which is a little over six years," he said.

However, Mr. Jenne said he does not feel that is a basis for concern.

"I don't have any money at stake in these properties," he said.

Many of the property owners have other successful investments and are willing to allow the site to remain dormant, he said.

"The only concern I would have is if I drove around and noticed large areas of vacant industrial properties," Mr. Jenne said. "There are some isolated buildings of relative size, but I don't perceive that as a problem. If it were a problem, I would make it known publicly and privately."

Commercial real estate broker Michael Mason, of O'Conor, Piper and Flynn, agreed. He said it is not unusual for industrial buildings to remain vacant for six months, a year or even longer before they are sold.

"It's a much more complicated purchasing process for the buyer," he said. "It's a much larger [financial] commitment than leasing 5,000 square feet of retail space."

Buyers must arrange financing, remodel a structure and bring it up to current building and environmental standards, Mr. Mason said. "These places are not vacant because it's a poor market, but because it takes quite a long time to work out the arrangements."

As a citizen, Mr. Jenne admitted that he might be concerned if there were dilapidated buildings in the area where he lives.

"If they were an eyesore, I would be concerned," he said. "But that would be for different reasons."

Taneytown Police Chief Melvin Diggs said his city has experienced several instances of children breaking windows or roaming inside vacant buildings. But he said he considers those incidents part of the larger problem of vandalism in Taneytown.

"We took 100 reports of vandalism last year," he said. "It's just kids with a want of something to do. But it's not an ongoing problem."

Taneytown City Manager Joseph A. Mangini Jr. agreed.

"I can't say it's a major problem," Mr. Mangini said. "[Vacant properties] are just an embarrassing irritant to economic development plans."

Mr. Mangini said Taneytown officials are planning to get more involved in helping industrial site owners market their properties, possibly with state money.

"One thing I'd like to try is taking state grant or loan money and going in and renovating these properties with the owner's consent," he said.

Other marketing strategies used by O'Conor, Piper and Flynn include signs on the properties and direct mail to market vacant industrial buildings, Mr. Mason said.

The most useful tool is networking between commercial real estate brokers, he said.

"Walter [Patton of KLNB Realtors] and I keep in touch," Mr. Mason said. "I show his buildings and he shows mine. If a client has a particular part of the county in mind, I'm going to show him all the properties in that area."

The county economic development office relies primarily on word of mouth and direct mail, Mr. Jenne said.

Fact sheets are sent to industrial contacts when new sites go on the market and when property owners request them.

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