Developer is asked to reconsider Navy site

Letter to Manekin seeks update of Bainbridge plan after group pulled out

November 23, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The Bainbridge Development Corp. mailed a letter Friday to the proposed developers of the former Navy base at Port Deposit inviting them back to give a new presentation of their plans for what is considered one of the prime real estate sites on the East Coast.

The move to invite the so-called Manekin team back comes at a time when there are reports of other developers expressing interest in the property, including the Rouse Co. of Columbia; Kinsley Properties of York, Pa., and Lowe Enterprises Community Development Inc. of Reston, Va.

Cynthia Rossetti, who took over as chairwoman of the BDC last month, said she would ask Richard Alter, president of Manekin LLC in Columbia, to update his organization's plan for Bainbridge.

The Manekin team also includes Clark Turner, president of Bel Air-based Clark Turner Cos., and John Paterakis, a commercial developer.

The BDC was set up by the General Assembly in 1999 to oversee the development of Bainbridge.

Manekin and his colleagues had exclusive negotiating rights with the BDC to develop Bainbridge, but they pulled out of the project over the weekend of Nov. 8 and 9 when Rossetti postponed a key vote scheduled for Nov. 10.

That vote was to accept or reject the Manekin team's plan for the development of 500 acres at Bainbridge as a technology park to house Berkshire Laboratories Inc.

Berkshire is a small, privately funded research company that says it has patents on technology that could help eliminate industrial pollutants, make U.S. manufacturers competitive with $3-an-hour labor in other parts of the world and eliminate the dangerous side effects of medicines.

Directors of the BDC voted Wednesday evening to invite the Manekin team back to make a final presentation of its plans for the property. The move came at the suggestion of the newest member of the board - Robert L. Gell, the former president of Cecil Community College. Gell was sworn in as a director earlier in the meeting.

He said it would be difficult for him to evaluate any new proposals if he did not know what the Manekin team had presented.

As he was leaving the meeting, Gell said: "I don't think the Manekin deal is dead. Maybe we will have to eat a little crow, but this is too good a deal to walk away from."

Rossetti said no date has been set for a Manekin presentation, but it was anticipated that it would occur within the next two weeks.

When asked earlier in the week if he would reconsider developing Bainbridge, Alter responded: "I don't like to burn bridges behind me."

During a meeting with the Cecil County commissioners Tuesday in Rising Sun and again at the BDC meeting at the Bainbridge Elementary School on Wednesday, Rossetti told residents of the new interests in Bainbridge.

She declined to offer details, but said that James M. DeFrancia, president of Lowe Enterprises, "expressed some interest" in Bainbridge.

Three years ago, Lowe proposed a plan for a $500 million resort, conference center and business park at Bainbridge with 1,200 homes.

Lowe's plan called for a golf course, maybe even two golf courses, and a San Francisco-style cable car system that would shuttle passengers between Bainbridge and Port Deposit, which was expected to have new restaurants and shops as a result of the development on the hill.

The project fell through in the summer of last year when an agreement on a plan to get water and sewerage to Bainbridge did not develop.

Rossetti said Kinsley Properties is also interested in the property. Kinsley is involved in one of the largest redevelopment proposals in the Baltimore area in recent years - a plan to transform a collection of old industrial buildings in Hunt Valley into a $60 million corporate campus.

Concerning Rouse, Rossetti would only say that a real estate representative of the company has expressed an interest in presenting a plan for the property.

She said James Correll, president of the Baltimore Building and Construction Trades Council, has talked with her about investing union pension funds on a project.

Rossetti said she plans to schedule a meeting during which all interested parties can present their proposals.

Wednesday's meeting proved difficult for Rossetti. The BDC's former chairman, Harland R. Graef, accused her of breaking the law by postponing the Nov. 10 vote on the Manekin proposal.

She countered that she was not breaking the law and that the delay would have allowed time for her to get a review of the contract from lawyers who serve on the BDC's advisory panel.

"I've never seen such a hostile meeting," said Paul R. Reed, a resident of Port Deposit and co-chairman of a citizens group that favors industrial development at Bainbridge over residential development.

"I disagree with the way board members aired their dirty laundry in public and their personal attacks on Rossetti's integrity. That meeting wasn't a debate; it was a free-for-all. That disturbs me. I think it is time to bury the hatchet and move on in a constructive manner," Reed said.

Reed said Rossetti should not have to take the abuse she was subjected to Wednesday and Graef should not have had to go through the abuse he took while he was chairman. "We can disagree," he said, "but there needs to be more respect for the opinions of others."

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