Schaefer's favorites? Projects that help people Kelly-Springfield was most important says former governor


January 19, 1995|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

What was the most important state construction project begun during William Donald Schaefer's eight years as governor?

Oriole Park at Camden Yards? The Convention Center expansion in Baltimore? The Central Light Rail Line?

Mr. Schaefer, questioned before he stepped down yesterday as Maryland's 58th governor, had a somewhat surprising answer: the Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. headquarters in Cumberland.

Asked to name the most important building of his administration, the governor initially said no one project could be singled out. "Every one we've built can be a special building," he said.

When pressed, the governor said the Kelly-Springfield project was "one of the most important" because of its widespread impact on that economically depressed region.

"That was the beginning of enlivening Western Maryland, to where they knew the state cared," he said last week. "We saved 600 jobs. That was very important."

The $9 million office building at 12501 Willowbrook Road was constructed in 1987 with $5.5 million in state assistance and $3.5 million from Allegany County.

After Kelly's parent firm, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., announced that it would shut down its Cumberland tire plant, Goodyear and Kelly officials considered moving Kelly's national headquarters out of Western Maryland. But the Schaefer administration persuaded them to keep the executive jobs in the region by offering financial assistance for the new headquarters.

RTKL Associates of Baltimore was the architect and Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. was the builder of the 100,000-square-foot project, which included a tire-testing facility and distribution center.

Today, Kelly has 550 employees in Western Maryland. The former plant is now a county-run industrial park.

Mr. Schaefer began working to save the Kelly headquarters in late 1986, while he was governor-elect. It was his first Do-It-Now project as the state's chief executive.

Ted Niederman, a senior vice president with RTKL, said he remembers getting a call from state officials to begin work on New Year's Day in 1987.

"It would have been a real blow for the state to lose that company. It wouldn't have looked good at all. For us, it was a land-speed record -- 10 months from start to finish."

Gerald Hess, director of public affairs for Kelly, was pleased to hear the governor had mentioned the project. "He was instrumental as governor-elect in keeping Kelly-Springfield in Maryland and in Allegany County," he agreed. "It was one of the very first public-private ventures he embarked on" as governor.

Mr. Schaefer said high-profile projects such as Oriole Park "are great -- and I hope we get a football stadium." But many of the buildings he counts among his most important accomplishments are lesser-known initiatives that help people.

"Down in Salisbury, we built a municipal building that wouldn't have been done without the state," he said.

"And there was a building in Southern Maryland that we tore down, that was a wreck. It was causing a lot of problems. It was an old school building that had been abandoned. You can build, or you can take down to help the preservation and restoration of areas."

Although Mr. Schaefer left office without seeing the completion of some key projects, he doesn't regard them as his unfinished work.

"It isn't undone. If I could have finished it, I would have finished it," he said. "But certain things that we've started are just coming along."

Mr. Schaefer's expression brightened when he was reminded that some of the buildings planned while he was governor won't be completed until 1999.

"Maybe longer," he confided.

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