Officials mull options for Warfield site Job, tax creation envisioned for site with 15 buildings

130-acre complex

County wants to see upscale development at Springfield location

March 14, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

With help from business and local government, the state hopes to convert an aging liability into an asset that creates jobs and a tax base in South Carroll.

Land planners, real estate brokers, architects and economic consultants met yesterday with state officials at Springfield Hospital Center to talk about options for the Warfield Complex and how to market the 130-acre site that has 15 mostly vacant buildings.

The state announced its intention to seek buyers for Warfield in December and has conducted tours and information sessions at the property along Route 32 in Sykesville.

"We want to work with business to create new jobs and a tax base," said Gary Ventry, an official with the state Department of Business and Economic Development. "We are exploring what makes sense and what the market will hold."

About 50 area companies and government agencies are interested in Warfield, but with reservations. Fred Glassberg, a consultant with Crystal Hill Advisors in Columbia, said the century-old buildings are "very usable for office space," and he urged the state turn the property over to Carroll County.

"This wonderful opportunity shouldn't be studied to death; just do it," he said. "Get it in the hands of the county, which has the elements in place to move forward with the property. Any solution that reasonable professionals suggest and that doesn't damage the ecology should be pursued."

Mr. Glassberg also suggested that the state economic development department should be one of the first tenants in his envisioned office complex.

Carroll County, with a 12 percent economic tax base, trails much to hope that the private sector will solve all the problems," Mr. Hoffman said. "The state is ducking the hard decisions. They have made a start, but they have a way to go."

Maryland may have to offer incentives, commissions or contingency fees to attract marketers, said Jerry L. Doctrow, senior vice president with Legg Mason Realty Group. Eliminating uncertainties, such as zoning, wetland protection and utilities problems, would draw prospective buyers to Warfield, he said.

"This property has a lot of uncertainties from a purchaser's point of view," Mr. Doctrow said. "Remove as many as you can."

Annexation into the town of Sykesville also could make Warfield more attractive. The town has proposed developing the site into an industrial center and making available its services, such as consistent planning and zoning regulations and historic district status.

The town and Springfield have been connected economically and socially since the hospital was founded in 1896, said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman, who also is a restoration contractor.

"We can reuse the best buildings and still have ample area, partially on Route 32, for new structures," Mr. Herman said. "Historic preservation will not get in the way of economic development of this property."

Nearly all the buildings are eligible for the Maryland Historic Trust and the accompanying tax incentives available for historic renovations.

The state soon will declare Warfield excess and offer it to other state agencies, who have no use for it, said Steve Cassard, Maryland's assistant secretary for real estate.

The next step would be to offer it to the private sector.

"We are still in the thought stage and have made no major moves on this parcel," Mr. Cassard said. "We are looking to foster realistic development potential and financing vehicles."

As patient numbers declined from 3,500 to 450, the hospital abandoned most of Warfield. Still, maintenance of grounds and the brick structures, most of which are in fair condition, figure into the per patient costs and seriously inflate those numbers, said Paula Langmead, superintendent.

Reducing those costs could make the state less likely to close Springfield one of three state hospitals targeted for possible closing by 2000. Most participants in the forum yesterday agreed that Route 32 will play a key role in the property's future.

Marlene Conaway, county assistant director of planning, said proximity to Interstate 70 and proposed improvements to Route 32 enhance Warfield's potential as an industrial center. "Route 32 could be dualized all the way to Annapolis," Ms. Conaway said. "It would open the corridor into Carroll County and have more impact than Route 795. It will also make this area closer to I-95."

Improvements are being made along the Howard County section of Route 32. County officials will meet with the State Highway Administration on March 28 to push for similar improvements on the Carroll portion of the road.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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