State loan for Warfield OK'd

$4 million will finance improvements at planned business, technology park


December 16, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The state Board of Public Works approved yesterday a $4 million low-interest loan that will pay for infrastructure and initial renovations at a long-planned business and technology park in South Carroll.

The investment, coupled with plans for an $8.6 million highway intersection leading into the campus, known as the Warfield Project, should spur interest and further investment in the project, which promises economic development for Carroll County and as many as 1,000 jobs, officials said.

The town of Sykesville, which annexed the 96-acre former Springfield Hospital Center property along Route 32 five years ago, has worked to bring the project to fruition since 1996, when the state made Warfield available for development.

"This is the capstone to eight years of work," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "We are coming around third and heading home. We are already off to a good start without even advertising the project."

The town can begin to restore Warfield, a cluster of a dozen century-old former hospital wards, with the low-interest loan provided by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

Sykesville has established Warfield Development Corp. to oversee the project and repay the 20-year loan as it leases space in the buildings. About 170,000 square feet is available for redevelopment, and the town is planning for 300,000 square feet of construction, including a hotel and conference center.

The project is expected to take about 10 years and cost about $20 million. The town created a master plan for the project with suggestions from county and state officials, business leaders and residents.

`A unique property'

"This is a unique property for Carroll County and for parts of Howard County," Herman said. "It is historic, sophisticated with classical architecture. It has a layout and a master plan so that developers don't have to deal with uncertainties."

The State Highway Administration has pledged funds for a new intersection on Route 32 that will be the gateway into the complex. Construction is scheduled to begin this spring.

Warfield's proximity to Interstate 70 should also make it attractive to industrial developers, officials said.

"State dollars and the new intersection will blow Warfield wide open," said Jay French, a consultant working with the town. "This is a great advertisement for Warfield."

Herman and French said they expect to sign a lease with the first tenant before the end of the year but that they could not divulge details.

"We are actually going to have a business locate at Warfield while it and the road are still under construction," Herman said.

The state loan will also help restore one of the smaller Warfield buildings into a model with office options, French said.

"This will be spec office space that you can rent and move into," he said.

Carroll County started its airpark business park in Westminster with a speculative office building, and the project took off from there, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said.

"We built it, and they came," she said. "I am thrilled that theBoard of Public Works has now made Warfield a go."

Warfield's closest neighbors will be a plant of Northrop-Grumman Corp., a defense contractor with numerous government projects, and Episcopal Ministries to the Aging, which oversees several retirement communities and assisted-living facilities.

"Those companies are already there and saying that Carroll County is special," Gouge said.

Henryton site available

The state also made another of its South Carroll properties available for redevelopment yesterday. The Board of Public Works agreed to place Henryton State Hospital on the market. The 46-acre, heavily wooded hospital property overlooks the Patapsco River near Marriottsville. It includes 18 buildings that have been vacant and poorly maintained for nearly 20 years.

Henryton was built in the 1920s as a hospital for tuberculosis patients. The state converted it into a facility for people with developmental disabilities.

Since it was abandoned, several developers have made tentative proposals for the site, but none has followed through with plans because they proved too costly. Carroll County officials have also considered using the site.

"Basically, it is a shame that these buildings have sat empty for so long," Gouge said. "We have looked at them a couple of times, but renovations would probably cost twice as much as building new."

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