Va. firm eyes Sykesville as site for arena 131-acre section of Springfield Hospital property is a prospect

'A gold-mine opportunity'

Market analysis study on potential uses for land is in the works

November 21, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Cellar Door Productions, a Virginia concert promoter, is considering state property in Sykesville as a site for an outdoor arena.

Dave Williams, president of Cellar Door, which owns the Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, said a 131-acre section of Springfield Hospital Center is one of several sites the company is considering in Maryland. He called all the prospects suitable and said any one could be his final choice.

He described the land and 14 unused, century-old buildings -- known as the hospital's Warfield Complex -- as "a lovely, lovely piece that we looked at a year ago. But the ball is in the county's court now."

The county that puts together the best package will win an arena. Williams said the company would go ahead with the project as soon as a deal can be made.

"This is a gold-mine opportunity for Carroll County," said Jack Lyburn, county director of economic development. "But other sites in the state make more sense for Cellar Door."

Meanwhile, Joseph H. Mettle, a county planning commissioner, said he is working "behind closed doors" to bring an international company, with $100 million in annual revenues, to the county. He has not contacted Lyburn's office.

"There is a perception that economic development is not working hard enough," Mettle said. "I keep hearing the same story from different towns. Maybe economic development needs to broaden its horizons."

Lyburn said his office is dealing with nearly 50 prospects now, many with international ties. "These are all prospects, and we don't discuss prospects," he said.

Before anything can happen at Warfield, the state first must declare the property a surplus, a lengthy process that has yet to start. Once the state designates the property a surplus, it could deed Warfield to the county, the town or a private developer.

Market analysis

The county and the town of Sykesville plan to participate in a market analysis study, sponsored by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Local and state officials are scheduled to meet with consultants from Legg Mason tomorrow in Baltimore.

"We need to know what is the market for the hospital site and if we will get a return proportionate to our investment," said county Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown.

The study, estimated to cost about $50,000 with the county paying a small percentage, would look for potential uses for Warfield.

At a meeting of the Freedom Area Community Planning Council on Tuesday, Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman wondered why it has taken a year to begin a study.

"The county is just now initiating a market study," said Herman. "If a plan is not developed, the whole thing could go to somebody else. No one just gives you a piece of land without a plan."

The town developed its proposal a year ago, when it first learned of the state's plans for Warfield. Its concept came complete with plans for preserving the buildings and renovating them into offices, classrooms and residences. Herman said prudent planning is essential if the state is to be persuaded to deed the land.

Herman has agreed to attend the meeting tomorrow, but he has reservations, particularly about a lack of community participation.

"I have been preaching all along the importance of working together with the county and state, but my biggest concern is there has to be public input into potential uses," Herman said.

Brown, Herman and Lyburn all are members of a task force working to keep Springfield Hospital open. It is one of three hospitals for the mentally ill that the state is considering closing by 2000.

The group was formed to study possible uses for surplus property. Those uses would have to be compatible with the hospital campus, generate income and allow as much public access as possible. Members met a year ago and accomplished nothing, said Herman.

When asked if a concert arena, adjacent to a hospital for the mentally ill, was a compatible use, Cellar Door's Williams said, "Lyburn told me the hospital won't be there."

Lyburn denied the comment, saying, "Our whole focus is to save the hospital."

Route 32 improvements

The state initiated contacts between the county and Cellar Door, which was searching for a minimum 80-acre site, Lyburn said. Cellar Door is insisting on improvements to Route 32, a two-lane state highway that would be the only access to the site, which is about five miles north of Interstate 70.

Lyburn said he discussed the proposal twice with all three commissioners. At the first meeting, "The three of us came to the conclusion that it would not work because of Route 32," Brown said. "The second time, Jack told us the state thought Springfield was a good fit and was willing to talk about transportation issues."

Commissioners Richard T. Yates and Donald I. Dell remained opposed to the project. Brown argued for letting the process continue, but he had a list of "ifs," he said.

"If the state had come up with a four-lane Route 32 to [Interstate] 70; if the county received $1 million a year in entertainment taxes and if the public accepted the concept," he might support the project, Brown said.

Cellar Door is only one of many prospects, Lyburn said. "We would like to see a campus zone, with mixed industrial use on the site. We have to have an analysis before we can do anything."

Pub Date: 11/21/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.