Developer abandons plans for Bainbridge

Manekin team had spent year, $300,000 on design for ex-naval base in Cecil

November 12, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Officials hoping to redevelop the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center, a 1,200-acre site in Cecil County that once served as the economic hub of Northeastern Maryland, have returned to the starting point for the second time in less than three years.

A team of developers that had been negotiating with the Bainbridge Development Corp. for nearly a year - and spent more than $300,000 on plans to create a technology park and residential center - said yesterday that it has scrapped plans for both.

"We have completely abandoned any plans for Bainbridge," said Clark Turner, president of Bel Air-based Clark Turner Cos. "We have pulled out."

That decision marked another setback in efforts to revive Bainbridge, which had its heyday during and shortly after World War II. At its peak, more than 55,000 military personnel and civilians were stationed there; the Navy closed the base in 1976.

In the summer of 2000, a Virginia-based development company captured headlines and the attention of state and county officials when it announced plans for a $500 million resort, conference center and business center at Bainbridge. It would have been the biggest single development contract in Cecil County history.

But that plan collapsed because local officials would not bring needed utilities to the property, which overlooks Port Deposit and the Susquehanna River.

BDC Chairwoman Cynthia Rossetti said yesterday that she "was floored" by the latest decision scrapping a Bainbridge blueprint, which included a technology center to accommodate Ohio-based Berkshire Laboratories Inc. and other companies. The plans were scrapped as BDC directors were considering a contract with the developers.

The BDC is a quasi-public agency created by the General Assembly to oversee the development of Bainbridge.

"I was not opposed to Berkshire," Rossetti said. "But I may have been opposed to the contract if it was not favorable to the town and the county. They never gave us the chance to understand the details of the contract."

Rossetti said she has already started talking with citizen groups about what they want in any plan to redevelop Bainbridge. "When the citizens agree on what they want up there, we will look for a developer who can provide that, rather than have a developer tell us what they want to do there," she said.

Turner said the decision to walk away from Bainbridge applied to plans for a 500-acre technology park as well as a residential community on the remaining acreage.

The technology center, designed to help Berkshire commercialize its patented technology, was expected to generate 3,000 jobs. The residential segment was to have featured a retirement center, a hotel, museum, school, library and diversified housing.

"We are abandoning something that we have worked on for close to a year and expended more than $300,000 on," said Richard Alter, president of Manekin LLC in Columbia. Turner and Alter are partners in the so-called Manekin team that has been negotiating with the BDC to develop the property. John Paterakis, a commercial developer in Baltimore, is also a member of the group.

"We have, regretfully, basically walked," Alter said. "It is not something we are happy about. It's painful and upsetting."

That frustration has been seen before at Bainbridge.

In 2000, Lowe Enterprises Community Development Inc. of Reston, Va., outlined its ambitious plans, including one or more golf courses, as well as 1,200 upscale homes to be marketed to retirees or people seeking a weekend retreat from jobs in Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia.

There was to be a San Francisco-style cable car system that would shuttle passengers from Bainbridge to Port Deposit, which would serve as the project's town center with new restaurants and shops.

Lowe walked away from that project in the summer of last year in frustration. It was unable to get an agreement from Port Deposit or the county on a plan to bring water and sewerage to the site.

The Manekin team's negotiations with Bainbridge Development Corp. ended when the BDC canceled a vote scheduled for Monday night to locate Berkshire at Bainbridge.

Berkshire is a small, privately funded research company with patents in a research area called "spectral science." The company says its technology can be used to eliminate the unwanted side effects of medicines, reduce industrial pollutants and make U.S. manufacturing companies competitive with $3-an-hour labor in other parts of the world.

But there has been considerable community opposition to that proposal for Bainbridge.

At public meetings, area residents have expressed skepticism of Berkshire's claims for its technology. They opposed a plan to sell property to companies locating in the technology park for $500 a acre.

Residents, and at least one Cecil County commissioner, Phyllis Kilby, also have protested plans for up to 2,000 homes at Bainbridge, saying that it would put a big strain on roads, schools and emergency services.

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