Canton business center planned Industrial park aims at recovering losses in manufacturing base

September 17, 1998|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Seeking to restore part of Baltimore's greatly diminished manufacturing base, city officials want to create an 80-acre industrial park near the Harbor Tunnel Thruway with a mix of federal, state, city and private funds.

The proposed Chesapeake Business Center -- to be in the Canton Industrial Area near a major marine terminal -- would create up to 1,400 jobs in businesses that include light and heavy manufacturing as well as warehouse and distribution operations, officials said. The center would be on the site of a former Exxon Corp. distribution center.

It would be modeled after the Fort Holabird Industrial Park, which opened in 1978 and also is in the southeast part of the city, and the Seton Industrial Park in the northwest, which opened in 1984.

The initial phase of the project, tentatively scheduled to be completed in two years and cost $15 million, would involve the city buying the land; demolishing several unused oil tanks and cleaning the contaminated land around them. A 230,000-square-foot industrial facility would also be built.

Eventually, the project would encompass a dozen other buildings of various sizes, with a total of 1.3 million square feet of space, though no total cost or timetable is given beyond the first phase.

Andrew B. Frank, a senior official with the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency, said the park is critical if the city is to be competitive in attracting new businesses or providing space for existing firms that want to expand.

"We need to have land close to I-95, close to the port and development-ready," he said yesterday. "Right now, there is just a limited supply of that."

The city's Department of Housing and Community Development has begun distributing draft copies of its application for a $5 million federal loan for the business center and has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal at 5: 30 p.m. Monday at St. Casimir Church in the 2700 block of O'Donnell Street.

Initial reaction from local leaders yesterday was positive.

"It's wonderful news," said state Sen. Perry Sfikas, whose district includes the area.

"It fits into our goals of industrial retention, good jobs and making sure we have a real mix in the Southeast of the commercial sector and residential development."

As it did at the Holabird and Seton parks, the city would provide roads and sewers and subdivide the land for the proposed center. It would then either sell parcels to interested developers or construct the buildings itself and lease them.

In addition to the $5 million loan from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would be repaid from the proceeds of the business center and economic development bonds, the city is also seeking a $3 million grant from a separate federal Brownfields Economic Development Initiative.

The proposal also includes $1.9 million in city loans and grants, a $1 million state grant and $3.5 million in private bank financing.

Officials of an Empowerment Zone near the center have said businesses could take advantage of up to $500,000 in job training funds if they agreed to hire residents from the federally designated urban redevelopment area.

Smaller amounts of money from the Baltimore Urban League and the city's employment office would help train welfare recipients for jobs in the business center.

In its draft application, the city notes that Southeast Baltimore has "suffered disproportionately" from losses in manufacturing.

"Southeast Baltimore has a 150-year tradition of manufacturing, but has lost nearly 43 percent of its industrial employment over the last 30 years," the application said.

The application said the proposed business center would help address problems of unemployment and lack of job skills among poor people as well as an "inadequate supply of land and modern industrial space for new business development."

"Without local government intervention, these 80 acres are likely to be either unused or used as outdoor bulk storage," the application said. "There are sites throughout Baltimore in this condition, which provide very few jobs and very low property tax revenues."

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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