Tech center plans stalled

Redevelopment of Navy facility awaits land transfer

46 acres on Severn River

Meetings canceled

advisory committee waits for information

October 14, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Negotiations among Anne Arundel County officials, private developers and the Navy on redevelopment of the David Taylor Research Center in Annapolis have come to a halt, further fueling speculation that plans to recast the former Navy facility as a high-tech business park may be in jeopardy.

With the Navy's transfer of the property to the county nearly a year late, principals in the deal have struggled to schedule meetings and canceled others; rumors abound about the project's financial foundation; and residents express frustration with what they consider the county's unwillingness to share information.

Navy officials, county representatives and developer Annapolis Partners have not met since the beginning of last month, and a meeting date has yet to be confirmed by all parties.

"I'm not sure when the next meeting will be held," said Ronald K. McDonald, project executive for Annapolis Partners and senior vice president of Mesirow Stein Real Estate of Chicago. Mesirow Stein joined with local businessman Maurice B. Tose to redevelop the research center, which sits on 46 acres of prime Severn River real estate.

Jerome W. Klasmeier, the county's chief administrative officer and lead negotiator in the real estate transfer, chalked up the recent delay to a conflict in schedules. He said he believes a meeting has been set for Oct. 23.

McDonald dismissed rumors that Mesirow Stein has backed out of the $250 million project or that Tose, who is president and chief executive officer of TeleCommunication Systems Inc. of Annapolis, is short of cash to finance the deal.

Tose controls about 75 percent of his company's combined shares, the value of which has dropped from about $30 a share shortly after TCS went public in August last year to about $1.81 a share Friday.

Tose could not be reached for comment Friday.

"The project is still going to happen," said McDonald. He said no other partners are being considered to help finance the redevelopment plan, which includes demolition of most existing buildings and construction of 730,000 square feet of office space and a waterfront inn.

Meetings canceled

The David Taylor Redevelopment Advisory Committee, a citizens panel that reports to County Executive Janet S. Owens, has also had recent meetings canceled. Last month's meeting was called off, and the October meeting, which had been set for Tuesday, was canceled Friday afternoon by county officials.

The cancellation angered committee members, some of whom say that county officials have kept the status of talks with the Navy under tight wraps and have been slow to respond to members' requests for information.

"It's just another stall tactic," said committee member Ted Kluga, who added that the committee is awaiting the results of an extended traffic study and a first glimpse at a concept plan for the new business campus.

"I'm very concerned about the status of the project," he said.

Uncertainty

Another committee member, Bob Poor, said he and other members have been told that the Navy is eager to hand off the property to the county, but that no one knows when that will happen.

Transfer of the property is almost a year behind schedule. County officials had set next month as the deadline for the real estate transaction, but many observers doubt it will be met.

Some committee members heard that a concept plan presented recently to the county by Annapolis Partners was sent back to the developer because it was not detailed enough - possibly further delaying negotiations.

"We haven't been able to get ahold of a timeline," Poor said. "The county hasn't replied to us. ... It isn't a very pleasant situation for any of us. We don't know what they are doing."

Closed-door talks

Committee members and residents have also questioned the county's decision to allow Annapolis Partners to participate in closed-door negotiations with the Navy, a concern shared by Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, whose Eastern Shore district includes Annapolis.

Gilchrest has sought advice from Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England, said Gilchrest's chief of staff, Tony Caligiuri, but because of recent world events, England has yet to answer.

Caligiuri said a public meeting will be held to discuss the issue before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, residents who live near the former research center - and who want to ensure that their neighborhoods will not be overwhelmed with traffic - say they will continue to fight the project until county officials revert to a plan presented to them about two years ago by a former advisory committee.

"There is no shortage of things to sue on here," said Steve Carr, immediate past chairman of the advisory committee, whom Owens replaced earlier this year after he sent a profane e-mail about the project to County Council members. "This thing could be tied up in court forever, or until they go back to the original plan."

That plan limited office space to 585,000 square feet and parking spaces to 1,853. The current plan puts office space at 730,000 square feet and parking spaces at 2,300.

Waiting for another lawsuit

Residents are awaiting the decision on a lawsuit filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in February. Resident Mary Beth Walker contends in the suit that two bills pertaining to the redevelopment project that were approved by the council in January are invalid for various reasons.

Carr said that even if Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. rules for the county, residents won't quit their opposition.

"We are anxiously awaiting Judge Heller's decision," he said. "Then we can have another lawsuit."

Sun staff writer Kristine Henry contributed to this article.

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