Business park rising on choice Edgewood site

July 24, 1995|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,Sun Staff Writer

As far back as 1988, David H. deVilliers Jr. believed that the location of the Arundel Corp.'s 145-acre S&G Concrete plant in Edgewood would make a premier business park. Now, the FRP Development Corp. president will get the chance to prove it.

Under plans filed with Harford County, the Sparks development firm next month intends to begin constructing manufacturing and distribution space on the site of the former surface mining operation.

In all, the plan calls for Lakeside Business Park to contain as much as 1.5 million square feet, not including S&G's operation, by 2001. At that size, the development, bounded by Interstate 95, Philadelphia Road, Edgewood Road and Fashion Way, would be valued at roughly $52 million.

"I've always had a fascination with that property by virtue of its location," said Mr. deVilliers, 44, a former Arundel Corp. real estate officer who left to create FRP in 1988. "I always thought that if you combined the high-end quality of an office park with an industrial use, it would work."

FRP, which will initially invest $3 million in purchasing and upgrading Arundel's land, plans to have Lakeside's first building ready by the spring of 1997. FRP intends to implement architectural restrictions and build a 9-acre lake for both aesthetics and storm water management -- hence the name Lakeside -- qualities usually associated with high-end office parks.

But even before the first shovel hits the dirt, FRP's Lakeside project will have a number of competitive advantages, most notably location. Harford's stretch of Interstate 95 has proven to be a powerful magnet for a number of national and East Coast distributors, including The Gap Inc., Mercedes-Benz of North America, Clorox Co., Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc. and the General Electric Co.

The park's development also comes at a time when other business parks in the county, including BLC Properties Inc.'s 350-acre Riverside Business Park and the James F. Knott Development Co.'s William Paca Industrial Park, have little available land to offer. In the case of Riverside, the largest remaining tract is nine acres.

Furthermore, with a vacancy rate of less than 5 percent, distribution space in the county is almost unavailable.

But perhaps most importantly, Lakeside will have the benefit of being within the boundaries of Edgewood's recently designated Enterprise Zone, a state award which provides relocating or expanding companies with tax credits, insurance and other incentives for hiring unemployed workers and renovating properties.

The county had applied for the zone status in April, in an effort to revitalize Edgewood's depressed local economy. Of the 2,130 households in the zone, a county study determined that a majority of the families earned less than 80 percent of Harford's median family income of $45,923.

"Edgewood has begun to experience many of the economic, social and physical ailments that come with age," the county wrote in its application for the zone. "These symptoms include a higher incidence of crime; a higher, disproportionate share of the county's low- to moderate-income persons . . . and increases in commercial blight and vacancies."

At the core of the zone is a 3.6-mile portion of U.S. 40 that runs through Edgewood. Harford officials hope the zone status will act as a "pre-emptive strike" that prevents further decay, revitalizes neighborhoods, industrial and commercial areas alike, and creates new jobs.

Although various upgrades are planned -- such as a renovation of the Edgewood Shopping Center, a new headquarters for the Aberdeen Proving Ground Federal Credit Union, a new ice rink and a $50 million extension of Route 24 -- Lakeside represents the most ambitious undertaking within the 2,500-acre zone.

Harford officials predict the zone's initial $21 million in improvement projects will create 200 jobs. By comparison, though, Lakeside could eventually be home to 1,500 workers, based on employment to square-footage ratios of nearby business parks.

"This sets the stage to develop and grow industrial jobs in that area," said Paul Gilbert, director of Harford County's Office of Economic Development. "And as much as we want to attract new retail and service jobs, we want to attract higher-wage jobs for Edgewood and other county residents equally as much. In theory, if you bring new industrial development to the county, in 10 years we can eliminate the need for an enterprise zone."

Lakeside's genesis had little to do with the timing of the designation, however. FRP had been working with Arundel and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the park's concept since 1992.

And while the zone serves as an amenity to attract tenants, it means nothing to the development firm. FRP, a subsidiary of publicly traded FRP Properties Inc., will finance the park's development internally.

That shouldn't prove difficult. In the first six months of 1995, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based parent generated $28 million in revenues and net income of $2.2 million, gains of 11 percent and 47 percent, respectively, over the same period last year.

A good portion of those earnings were generated by local FRP projects. Since 1988, FRP has developed five projects totaling more than 500,000 square feet of office and industrial space, at a cost of more than $20 million. Its latest project is the two-building Rossville Business Center, beside Golden Ring Mall. Like its other work, Rossville is fully leased.

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