A positive look at Bainbridge

December 02, 2003

CECIL COUNTY lost a promising opportunity for economic development of the 1,200-acre former Bainbridge Naval Training Center last month. Fortunately, it may have another chance, which must not be wasted by hardened skepticism and foot-dragging.

The final straw for the developers was another delay by the quasi-public Bainbridge Development Corp. in approving the launch of a 500-acre technology park there.

But the underlying cause was persistent opposition by some residents to almost any development at the Susquehanna River site below Port Deposit. This vocal minority encouraged delay by the BDC - ostensibly to seek another legal review of the contract - while arguing that key questions about the project's impact were not answered.

This same skepticism helped to kill a $500 million proposal to develop a resort/conference center/vacation-home complex there last year, as the county declined to bring water and sewerage to the site.

This time, the county backed a regional water system and the Cecil commissioners supported the developer plan, as did Port Deposit officials, state economic development officials and even the governor. The Manekin team developer had a viable high-tech prospect in Berkshire Laboratories to drive its plan for a technology park on 500 acres; a business-residential project was envisioned for the other half of the property.

Closed-door meetings by BDC directors and the sweeping authority given its previous chairman certainly stirred public mistrust. But there's a nagging belief that some folks around Bainbridge feel that nothing is good enough, guaranteed enough to be worthy of this waterfront site near Interstate 95. Fact is, the Navy training center closed 27 years ago, and BDC has been looking since 1999 for a sound development proposal.

Cynthia Rossetti, the new chairwoman of BDC, pledged to involve citizens in planning uses for Bainbridge. That's a reasonable approach, as long as it is realistic in goals and recognizes that any development involves risks, changes and costs.

Meantime, the developer that wanted to build the resort and vacation-home complex, Lowe Enterprises Community Development, says it wants a second chance. The Rouse Co. is also said to be interested, and even the Manekin team has been invited by BDC for another presentation on Monday.

BDC and Cecil County don't have to jump at the first offer. But they had better take an objective look at the proposals, and make a timely decision, rather than listening to the inveterate naysayers.

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