Coke lets option fizzle out on site for syrup plant Move dashes hopes for up to 120 jobs

February 14, 1993|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,Staff Writer

Coca-Cola USA will not build a $60 million soft drink syrup plant in Harford, dashing county officials' hopes for as many as 120 new full-time jobs.

The world's largest soft drink maker allowed its option on a 30-acre site at the Riverside Business Park to expire.

That means Coke, which spent $3 million studying the site and designing a plant, essentially walked away from the deal.

Atlanta-based officials at Coca-Cola USA have not decided where to build the plant, a spokesman said.

"Nothing definitive has been decided," said Randy Donaldson, vice president of public relations for Coca-Cola USA.

"We are still considering several options, including the Howard County site selected by Coca-Cola Enterprises Northeast to build a bottling plant. We liked the Harford site but decided not to renew the option."

Katherine Whiting, public affairs director for Coca-Cola Enterprises Northeast, based in Columbia, said: "We would like to have the syrup-making division put its plant in Howard but no decision has been made. We are awaiting word from Atlanta."

Sources close to the situation insist that the decision on where to build the syrup plant is being delayed because of a power struggle between the two Atlanta-based divisions -- Coca-Cola Enterprises and Coca-Cola USA.

Coca-Cola Enterprises is believed to favor building the plant in Howard County, while Coca-Cola USA is resisting that site.

The issue appears to revolve around whether the two plants need to be in the same location.

In October 1992, when Coca-Cola Enterprises Northeast announced plans to build a $100 million bottling plant on a 15-acre site at Parkway Industrial Center in Dorsey it was rumored that the syrup plant would be built at the same location.

The plant would replace the 70-year-old facility on East Fort Avenue in Baltimore.

Paul Gilbert, president of BLC Properties of Belcamp, said that Coca-Cola USA, which supplies soft drink syrup for soda fountains, spent about $3 million studying the Harford County site and designing a plant.

"None of that money is refundable," he said.

"Should the company decide to locate in another area, all that TTC work would have to be done again. Financially, it [the company] would probably have to spend an equal amount."

James D. Fielder, Harford's economic development director, confirmed that he told Mr. Gilbert to market the property.

"We spent over a year working with the syrup division," Mr. Fielder said.

"Certainly, we're disappointed the company allowed the option to run out but, in reality, we never had the plant.

"We're moving forward, not looking back."

George Harrison, a spokesman for the county administration, shared Mr. Fielder's sentiments.

"We are extremely disappointed that Coke didn't settle in our county," Mr Harrison said, "but things often happen within major corporations that we can't control.

"From an economic development standpoint, we have to look forward."

Mr. Harrison said county officials are talking to several large companies about the site, but he declined to elaborate.

Mr. Gilbert acknowledged that several companies have expressed interest in the site but said "it's a little too early to say who they are."

Riverside is one of the county's largest commercial real estate business parks.

It includes several prominent facilities, including an 800,000-square-foot General Electric appliance center and a vehicle preparation area for Mercedes-Benz of North America.

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