Three local developers are vying for the chance to build a $15 million office building that would become the new Columbia headquarters for AlliedSignal Technical Services Corp.
AlliedSignal, which employs 900 in Howard County, has been looking to move from its headquarters building on Bendix Road on the northern edge of Columbia since at least December.
Howard County officials have apparently persuaded the company to stay in the county, perhaps in a new building on
Gateway Drive, a corporate park on the eastern entryway to Columbia, say developers and others familiar with recent negotiations.
Other leading sites include the Columbia mall area of Town Center and Columbia Corporate Center between Snowden River Parkway and Dobbin Road. One key to the deal is the offer by County Executive Charles I. Ecker to pay $7.5 million for AlliedSignal's Bendix Road headquarters, a nearly 30-year-old building that could ease county government's need for office and warehouse space.
It is the boldest incentive package Howard has ever offered a business, and it still needs the approval of the Howard County Council, which plans to begin reviewing it next month.
The council, dominated by Republicans, typically has supported the economic development initiatives of Ecker, a fellow Republican.
"It sounds, off the top of my head, like it's probably a bargain," said Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a West Friendship Republican.
Howard County Chamber of Commerce President Bruce Taub complained about the need for "corporate welfare" but applauded Ecker and the Economic Development Authority for moving so aggressively to keep AlliedSignal.
He called such incentive packages necessary in the competitive world of corporate recruitment.
"To ignore that as a reality essentially equips your people with peashooters in a climate in which they need assault weapons," Taub said.
Searching for space
AlliedSignal did not return telephone messages seeking comment Friday, but earlier the company confirmed that it is looking for a new headquarters, preferably in Howard County.
Sources say Rouse Co., Manekin Corp. and Merritt -- three of the top commercial developers in Howard -- are bidding for the chance to build an office building of about 120,000 square feet and as many as 10 stories high for AlliedSignal.
"It's a very important company, which has been part of Columbia's and Howard County's history for a very long time," said Duke Kassolis, senior vice president of Rouse, which built Columbia.
Rouse has been in discussions with AlliedSignal for several months about a new office building of 120,000 to 150,000 square feet, eight to 10 stories high, said Kassolis.
The cost would be about $150 per square foot -- a price range that indicates AlliedSignal is looking for premium office space.
Rouse already plans to break ground this fall on a 100,000-square-foot office building just south of the mall. But Kassolis said this new building might be too small for AlliedSignal's needs.
The company's discussions with Manekin have focused on a 120,000-square-foot building on Gateway Drive.
Manekin Senior Vice President Cole Schnorf said the building might be only four or five stories tall and cost $130 per square foot.
Merritt, based in Baltimore, owns and markets the Columbia Corporate Center. It did not return phone messages Friday.
Howard County's offer to buy the building is mainly an economic development incentive to AlliedSignal, which had been looking to move to a new headquarters in one of the suburban counties -- perhaps Fairfax, Va. -- closer to Washington.
AlliedSignal is Howard's fourth-largest private employer and one with the high-tech, high-wage, white-collar jobs that are key to local prosperity.
But Howard County officials also are thinking about their own space needs as they consider taking over AlliedSignal's current headquarters on Bendix Road. The 200,000-square-foot building includes 32,000 square feet of warehouse space.
County government currently spends more than $1 million a year renting office and warehouse space. The Health Department spends $500,000 a year on just its mental health services at the Riverwood Center in Columbia's Kings Contrivance village.
County officials had planned to buy that building for $3 million this year, but that purchase is now in doubt. The $3 million approved for that sale is part of the money Ecker has set aside for the possible purchase of the AlliedSignal building.
"If this building comes to fruition, it would be logical to put [mental health services] there," said county Budget Director Raymond Wacks.
The county and the school system together rent 47,000 square feet of warehouse space. The Board of Education alone pays $113,000 in annual rent.
Pub Date: 8/24/97