Town pursues funding to develop complex

County, state support sought to jump-start Warfield project

September 15, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville is eager to develop 138 acres of newly annexed industrial land into a business and education center and even more eager to secure county and state funds to jump-start the project.

In a closed session requested by the county commissioners, town officials again detailed plans for the 14 century-old buildings along Route 32. The property, known as the Warfield Complex, was once part of the state-owned Springfield Hospital Center.

The town, with 3,500 residents and an annual budget of $1.2 million, cannot proceed with what is expected to be a $20 million restoration and construction project without county and state money. Officials would not release details of the negotiations Monday, but characterized the latest talks as positive.

"We are much closer to forging a partnership with the commissioners," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "I think we will be able to cement the deal soon."

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said no decisions were reached at the hourlong session and none are imminent. She has questions about funding and potential tenants.

"We have to see where everybody fits and what is expected from us," Gouge said. "We have to know how this is panning out."

The mayor remains optimistic, adding that he can dispel qualms the commissioners may have about investing in Warfield.

Once the state declared Warfield surplus nearly three years ago, the county and town played a fierce tug-of-war for ownership. The county bowed out of the project, and the state awarded the land and buildings to Sykesville in December 1997. A referendum for annexation in February was overwhelmingly supported by town voters.

"A financial partnership between the town and county would show the state our solidarity on making this project a success," said Herman.

The town created a plan for redeveloping the complex. Aggressive marketing and the promise of federal and state tax credits for historic renovation have attracted potential tenants for nearly all the buildings. Herman expects the state to transfer title to the property within a month, but said, "I am asking for money."

Herman called for additional meetings that "will show the financial feasibility of our project. We want the county to have a clear understanding of how to proceed with financing for Warfield and to give them every reasonable assurance the project will be a success."

John T. Lyburn, county economic development director, said yesterday that his office has done work on Warfield, which he called "a gold mine, a real gem in Carroll County." A few more meetings should seal the partnership, he said.

"Warfield is one of our No. 1 sites for industry in the county," Lyburn said. "It is close to [Interstate] 70, and there is a great labor force all around there. I am really excited about a partnership with the town. This is going to work."

Fred Glassberg, a planning and financial consultant hired by the town, suggested funding the initial $11.3 million phase with revenue bonds and loans from the state and the county's Industrial Development Authority.

"That is one possible scenario, but there are others," said Matthew H. Candland, town manager. He would not elaborate.

The proposed financing plan would include creation of a development authority to shield the town from incurring costs. The authority would borrow money and collect revenues. Income from leases would repay the debt in three years, the mayor said.

"Three years is a normal payback for any development of this size," Herman said.

Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols said the financial dealings are difficult to understand, but workable. Warfield could be an economic boon to Carroll, which needs industrial development, she said. Industry provides less than 12 percent of Carroll's tax base, the lowest rate in the metropolitan area.

"This is a complicated process, and most people cannot grasp it immediately," said Nichols. "But, all the mechanisms are there. We are confident the county wants this revenue. Warfield fits right into their vision of economic development. It could be the bright light for industry here.

"If we get our foot in the door with just one building, everyone will see this project is a go," she said.

Warfield could bring about 600 jobs to the county, generating annual income tax revenues of $1 million for the state and $500,000 for the county, Glassberg said in an economic model he developed for the project.

"We want to be treated like Sweetheart Cup or any company that offers a major opportunity for Carroll County," said Herman.

The county needs high-paying jobs; more than half Carroll's work force leaves the county every day for jobs in surrounding areas. In addition, industry would strengthen Carroll's tax base, easing the county's reliance on residential tax dollars.

"Warfield truly creates a win-win-win situation for the state, the county and the town," said the mayor.

Pub Date: 9/15/99

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