Warfield Project lands first building tenant

Nursing home company to fix up structure from old Springfield Hospital

December 19, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Warfield Project, a long-planned business and technology park in South Carroll, has signed a national company with headquarters in Eldersburg as its first tenant. Nexion Health Inc. officials said the company will spend more than $2 million to renovate its new offices in one of the former state hospital buildings once known as the Warfield Complex.

The company, which operates 40 nursing facilities in three states and employs about 6,000 workers, signed a long-term lease late last week for one of the dozen century-old structures that were once Springfield Hospital wards.

Nexion officials said they plan to convert the building into the company's central office with space for more than 50 employees and room to expand.

"We see this as a cornerstone opportunity for our company and for the Warfield Project that will become the hottest property in the area within the next few years," said Francis B. Kirley, who founded Nexion about five years ago in partnership with Bret Bolt.

The state made Warfield's vacant brick buildings available for development nearly nine years ago. The town of Sykesville annexed the property, created a plan for its future and entered into a development partnership with Carroll County and the state. The town, through its Warfield Development Corp., is now marketing the 96-acre property along Route 32.

His daily commute from Howard County to Eldersburg took Kirley past Warfield, a cluster of buildings that, he said, resemble a stately college campus. He said he would often speculate on what the aging buildings with their graceful porches and imposing columns could become.

"I always thought the buildings had dynamic potential, and once they became available, I thought, what a great place for the base of our organization," Kirley said.

Kirley, who toured every building in the complex, expects to begin extensive renovation of the 16,000-square-foot building at the entrance to Warfield by March and to relocate his offices there by year's end, he said.

"I have the nicest building on the campus," Kirley said. "You can see it from the highway, and its shape will allow for open office spaces."

For the town, this first lease is the culmination of years of planning and trying to convince others of the property's potential.

"To bring in a business like Nexion means that our vision has struck a chord with the corporate world," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "This is a real business, not some strip shopping center."

Since Warfield is on the National Register of Historic Places, renovation work is eligible for federal tax credits, which in Kirley's case could be as much as $400,000, said Jay French, a development consultant working with the town.

"The renovation will make a 105-year-old building look new," French said.

The town, county and state partnership will help realize Warfield's boon to economic development. It carries the promise of more than 1,000 white-collar jobs and much-needed industry for Carroll County.

"I am so thankful to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich and to this Board of County Commissioners," Herman said. "We finally have a real partnership. We could never have done this without this partnership to make it work."

The state Board of Public Works approved last week a $4 million low-interest loan that will pay for infrastructure and initial renovations at Warfield and for renovations to a small building that will serve as a model for offices. The town will repay the 20-year loan from its profits on leases, such as Nexion's.

The investment, coupled with plans for an $8.6 million highway intersection leading into the campus, should spur interest and further investment in the project, officials said.

"We have real money, a real tenant and a new road now," said Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff. "Things will move forward much faster now for Warfield."

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.

Kirley has agreed to become a member of the Warfield Development Corporation.

"I grew up in New England, and I know the value of historical properties," he said. "This kind of restoration has always been a vision of mine."

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