Idea for Route 144 farmland: See what entrepreneurs think

PLAYING AROUND

February 02, 2003|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

TOUGH TIMES, it's been said, foster creative thinking, which is not at all to imply that what follows here is a good idea. What follows is, however, creative.

The subject is amateur sports facilities, or lack of them, and it surfaced in a rather unlikely forum last week, during a meeting in the new Ellicott City Senior Center of the Howard County Commission on Aging.

The voice that broached the topic, that of West Friendship's Donald Dunn, has been heard many times before, mainly on anything involving golf, Dunn's other passion (in addition to dabbling with Howard County affairs).

What Dunn asked Monday night was the commission's backing to encourage entrepreneurs to come up with ideas on how best to use about 300 acres of farmland that the county's Department of Recreation and Parks owns on Route 144, opposite the Howard County Fairgrounds.

He didn't get rousing acceptance, but he wasn't rejected, either, given that the advisory group is interested in anything that might serve this county's growing gray population.

We mentioned Dunn's concept in a column last fall, but his thinking has progressed since.

Though he is still not sure exactly how things might work, entrepreneurs might have some suggestions, Dunn said. Right now, he is thinking along the lines of businesses leasing land from rec and parks.

"Land costs being so high are what would pretty much doom any business wanting to start here," Dunn said, "but the county has the land already, and so that might help keep costs down."

Watching what the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County is doing with Covenant Park, Volleyball House is doing in Elkridge and what Soccer Dome's backers have managed in Jessup, he suspects that creative business minds might be able to do more than government in providing new recreation facilities over the next few years.

This month, Dunn said, he will also take the concept before the Advisory Board on Recreation and Parks, on which he served for six years, and subsequently to whatever political venue is appropriate.

"The timing might be right for this kind of thinking," said Dunn, a retired engineer. "I mean, it doesn't seem that tax money is going to be available for facilities in the foreseeable future.

"But we have two things happening in the county in terms of recreation - more children than ever needing places to play and a population that is getting older, which means outlets for affordable things to do."

It is true that Dunn still wants a public golf course built on the acreage, a no-frills kind of course unlike any in the county, he said. But any course wouldn't require the entire farm, so he is also wondering whether entrepreneurs could make money by adding ball fields, or tennis courts, or horseshoe (what's the word, layouts, courts?) or a gym, or field house - hey, let those creative juices flow.

A decent lease arrangement, he said, might also make money for the county. After all, he said, local government here views rec and parks as a cash generator these days, anyway.

Any thoughts -pro, con, or in-between? Let us know via one of the ways noted at this column's tail-end.

Along the sidelines

Gym rug: We hear that County Executive James N. Robey, school board member Virginia C. Charles (who has visited once) and council Vice Chairman David A. Rakes have lined up to check out that outdated, grungy carpet on Thunder Hill Elementary School's gym floor that we reported about last Sunday.

Duathlon: This little-known cycling-running sport has a credible following in Howard County, including several world-level, age-group competitors. One of them, Ellicott City's Don Forgione, has formed a 12-member team, Du2R (it's for duathlon-2 runs, he says) to compete in the sport.

He, son Adam, Glenelg Country School Principal Trey Cassidy, and Clarksville's Brenda Allen are the county residents on the squad. Four others are from Montgomery County, and the balance are from Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Eleven of the dozen have competed in world duathlon championships.

Several sponsors are lined up, and Forgione is awaiting word from a couple of more to help with expenses, he said.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525, or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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