County bid to lure firm sputters

June 24, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Economic development officials say they have made their final offer to lure Freewing Aerial Robotics to Carroll County.

But the experimental aircraft company, which manufactures manned and unmanned planes with a movable wing, said that the proposal is a "non-offer" and that county officials are encouraging it to fly away.

"The county knew in advance that this was a non-starter deal," said Hugh Schmittle, president of Freewing. "The county is telling Freewing to get . . . out of Carroll County."

For almost a year, county and company officials have been battling to land a deal that hit turbulence soon after Freewing agreed to move from the University of Maryland's business-incubator program in College Park to the Carroll County Regional Airport.

County officials recently withdrew an offer to sell Freewing the former county recycling barn property at the airport, because the Freewing building would interfere with a precision instrument landing system to be installed within the next 10 years.

The latest offer, in a June 2 letter from the county Industrial Development Authority to Freewing, involves purchasing about 2 acres of property behind Quality Glass and Aluminum at the airport from Steve Hull, owner of the glass and aluminum company, for not more than $90,000 an acre.

Also, under the terms of a county and state loan-grant package, the county would help Freewing purchase the land and construct a building for about $1 million. County officials also plan to evaluate the property for potential environmental liabilities, the letter said.

The development authority "also wishes to convey its notice to Freewing that, after lengthy examination of the record in this matter, we have determined that we are unable to offer other provisions, concessions or amendments in preparing a possible site for this project," the letter said.

"We have bent over backward for the last time," said Arthur A. Peck, development authority president, during Wednesday's Economic Development Commission meeting. "Now they have until June 30 to respond."

However, Mr. Schmittle and Freewing vice president Odile Legeay said the deal is unworkable. They said that if they agreed to pay more than appraised value for the land, that would violate the terms of a loan from the state, upon which their move and expansion depend.

"We asked Eileen Shields [marketing manager for the county Economic Development Office] to call Steve Hull and see if he would accept appraised value," Mr. Schmittle said. "He said his offer was $90,000 [per acre], take it or leave it."

In tax records at the Carroll County office of assessments for the state, $121,968 is listed as the appraised value for the 2.005-acre property.

"They [county officials] know that even if we were to accept the deal, the state would not accept it," Ms. Legeay said. "The offer was made in bad faith."

Yet, county representatives maintain they have been more than accommodating to Freewing.

"In all instances we have dealt above board, while they have had a tendency to deal through the media," Mr. Peck said. "That bothers me. Not that I have a problem with the press. The problem is when they make outrageous statements that have no basis in fact."

Mr. Schmittle said his statements can all be backed up by documents in his files. Now, he and his partner would like to see the county do the same.

"If they say they've offered us numerous pieces of land and bent over backwards, I'd like to see the documents to prove that," he said. "But there are none. There is nothing except what we have. There has been a grand total of two pieces of land offered.

"They're saying 'Freewing, get . . . out. You're too much trouble to deal with.' They're not honest enough to say they don't know how to fix this."

Circumstances surrounding the Freewing deal will probably hurt Carroll County's economic development efforts in the future, as well, Mr. Schmittle predicted.

"Any professional organization [looking at Carroll County] will do a data base search of the county's economic development efforts and will come across the Freewing deal," he said, noting that he and his partner sought recommendations from Carroll businesses before deciding to locate here.

"They will ask us how Carroll County treated you, and we will answer: With dishonesty, disrespect and bad faith."

Freewing officials said they received the development authority's letter a day before they were scheduled to leave for a business trip in Paris to negotiate a contract with a major European aerospace company. That deal completed, they expected to return to Maryland yesterday and respond to the county's offer, they said.

"We didn't want to waste any time on a phony letter," Mr. Schmittle said from Paris. "When we get back, we will answer immediately and our response will be that this is a nonoffer.

"Their letter says they sent a copy to Mark Wasserman [secretary of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development.] Well, a copy of our letter will be sent to Mark Wasserman and a good number of other people and organizations."

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