Bata plant to be razed

Harford planning high-technology business park on site

June 11, 1999|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

In the first major component of a planned high-technology business corridor along U.S. 40 in Harford County, the Bata Shoe Co. plant will be razed this year to make way for a $63 million office park, county officials announced yesterday.

The proposed Water's Edge Corporate Campus on the banks of the Bush River -- which officials hope will draw 1,300 jobs to the county -- will join a community of 400 homes, two waterfront restaurants and a hotel and conference center being built in the area.

David Talbot, president of Bata Shoe Co. Inc., said his company will relocate its 175 employees to a $10 million, 120,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to be built in Havre de Grace.

The combination of Bata's move and construction of the 400,000-square-foot Water's Edge is expected to boost the county's economy and the ailing corridor along U.S. 40.

"It's a win, win, win situation for all of us," Talbot said. "The hope is that with the move, it will stimulate a growth of business for us that will also be a boon to the county."

Harford County Executive James M. Harkins said the Water's Edge Corporate Campus is part of an effort to bring high-technology businesses to the industrial-retail corridor along U.S. 40.

"We want to embrace the governor's Smart Growth initiatives," Harkins said yesterday after a news conference where he outlined details of the project. "Route 40 is a diamond in the rough, and we want to polish it up."

Harkins has pushed the concept of a "Greater Route 40 technology area" since his election in the fall, and in March successfully courted the Americom Group, which next month is to open a wireless phone processing center in Edgewood.

Bata Shoe Co. has been in the Belcamp community in Harford County since 1934, and its building is considered architecturally significant. It is one of the early examples in the United States of the Bauhaus school of design.

Company officials said that the Bata plant in its heyday employed as many as 3,400 workers to manufacture shoes such as the Bata bullet sneaker. But competition from overseas companies cut into Bata's operations. By the 1980s, the work force in Harford was scaled back to fewer than 100 employees, Talbot said.

For several years, Talbot said, the company has been using 170,000 square feet of the site's 457,000 available square feet.

Several years ago, county residents interested in preserving the building's architecture were rebuffed when they asked the county to block the plant's partial demolition, and sections were torn down.

But the plant drew the attention of Clark P. Turner, a Harford County developer who began working on a plan almost five years ago to build homes near the Bata plant.

Turner said he envisioned a mixed office and residential project that would capitalize on the proximity of Bush River.

"The more time I spent on the land, the more the idea began to form," Turner said. "The water is the magic that makes it desirable for the type of environment employees need today."

Officials said the corporate campus will include walking paths, a putting green and a fitness center. Turner said his company, Clark Turner Co., is in final negotiations with its first potential tenant, which would occupy the first 30,000-square-foot office building. He declined to identify the potential tenant.

Gunther Hirsch, president of the Harford County Council, said the site's location makes it attractive because it is accessible by water, U.S. 40 or Interstate 95. He called the project ideal for the area.

Pub Date: 6/11/99

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