Arundel site study for Lego put off Theme park delay in Calif. leaves local project in limbo

September 18, 1996|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

The Lego Group has shelved consideration of Anne Arundel County for a $100 million-plus amusement park until after the turn of the century to concentrate on a similar project in California.

The Danish toy maker informed Maryland officials last week that complications in opening its Carlsbad, Calif., theme park -- the company's first U.S. project -- have hampered plans to develop a Legoland on the East Coast, sources said.

"It has taken them a long time to get the required permits for the park in California, and our understanding is they want to make sure things proceed there before they get serious with any East Coast site selection," said one local economic development official involved with Lego, who asked not to be named. "But we're not giving up on them."

Lego told the state that site selection for an East Coast Legoland won't begin until well after the Carlsbad project is operational, state and other sources said.

As a result, the owners of the planned Dorchester community near Baltimore- Washington International Airport -- one of several sites Lego reportedly had been eyeing -- intend to proceed with 400 acres of commercial and industrial development.

"Four to five years from now, Dorchester will be a commercial prize for the county and the region," said Neil Greenberg, a vice president of Somerset Construction Co., which is overseeing Dorchester's development. "We weren't betting the farm on Lego, because there are too many other positive opportunities for the community."

When completed, Dorchester's commercial component is expected to contain 1.8 million square feet of distribution, light manufacturing and office space valued at more than $120 million.

Somerset and the Dorchester landowners already are developing 264 single-family detached homes and 542 townhomes on 600 acres there.

For Maryland, however, Lego's decision could mean loss of millions of dollars in amusement and property taxes and a potential economic development engine. In California, Legoland is projected to draw two million tourists a year, generate $700,000 in property tax revenue for the city of Carlsbad and create 1,400 construction and full-time jobs.

The maker of plastic interlocking blocks hopes to open the California version of Legoland, a $145 million park on 128 acres roughly 40 miles from San Diego, in spring 1999. The opening there has been delayed by protests from environmental groups and by difficulty in obtaining necessary building permits, according to published reports. Lego officials dispute that any postponement has occurred, and contend they will open a Legoland on either the East Coast, Europe or Asia in 2002.

"We like to take things step by step before entering into new challenges," said John Jakobsen, manager of location development with Legoland Development Inc., in California. "We're still focusing on sites for the next Legoland, and the California project is going along very well."

Jakobsen added that a decision on the next Legoland site won't occur until the end of next year.

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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