Town builder steps down

Futurist: Nottingham chief retires today after guiding the rise of White Marsh from gravel and sand pits.

December 31, 2004|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

In the 1970s, before the arrival of townhouses, office parks, shops, restaurants or any roads, for that matter, P. Douglas Dollenberg would take department store executives for helicopter rides over White Marsh. Peer down, he'd say, and envision the future.

That took some imagining for passengers hovering above 2,000 acres of sand and gravel pits, a reclaimed mining operation. Dollenberg, then a young engineer for landowner Nottingham Properties Inc., pitched a vision for a new community, stressing the site's interstate access, its proximity to 700,000 people, its prime spot in an area where Baltimore County would channel growth. Eventually, retailers by the droves bought in. So did homebuilders and businesses.

Today, White Marsh Town Center is a bustling hub with about 15,000 residents and 17,000 jobs clustered around a mall and Main Street-style shopping strip that is being replicated nationally.

Dollenberg, who has led much of that development as Nottingham's president and chief executive officer, is stepping down today after 25 years as CEO and 36 years with the company. J. Joseph Credit, the Towson developer's executive vice president and chief operating officer, will replace him.

Since Dollenberg joined Nottingham in 1968, it has grown from a three-person operation into a 50-person business with three divisions responsible for commercial and residential projects throughout the region. The company has developed about 3 million square feet of office and retail, making it one of the Baltimore area's bigger developers.

Nottingham is best known for the $1 billion, master-planned White Marsh Town Center.

"At the time, it was pretty speculative," said Ronald D. Mettam, executive vice president of Mercantile Bank, Nottingham's lender for numerous projects. "It was a large-scale project with no proven market at that time. Doug came in and over time, with discipline and vision, had the patience and foresight to work through the process and created one of the better markets in Baltimore County."

Towson native Dollenberg, 65, plans to stay on Nottingham's board of directors and serve as a consultant.

"It's been fun to be part of Nottingham's growth and certainly challenging, and at the same time satisfying, to work on the evolution of a large town center like White Marsh, to see it come together and see it mature," Dollenberg said. "It's not Camelot, but it's a project people feel has quality to it."

Credit, a 19-year company veteran, says Nottingham is well-positioned to continue to branch out geographically. In 2002 the company made its first foray outside Maryland with the purchase of a two-building complex in Northern Virginia.

Dollenberg's work in White Marsh began in 1968 when he joined Nottingham as executive vice president. He'd been a project engineer for Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. A University of Maryland graduate with a master's degree in civil engineering from Purdue University, Dollenberg had worked on construction of Tysons Corner Shopping Center in Virginia. That project sparked his interest in development.

Working for Nottingham, Dollenberg would be in charge of developing not a single mall but an entire master-planned community. Nottingham had been an inactive holding company for the land owned by Harry T. Campbell and Sons, which had mined the 2,000 acres in northeastern Baltimore County for sand and gravel for decades.

Former gravel mine

When Dollenberg came on board, Nottingham - with the Campbell family as the principal stockholders - was just becoming an active developer of the reclaimed land. The property, which straddled Interstate 95, sat in the middle of one of four key areas that county officials had targeted as possible high-density growth areas. Owings Mills was another.

Dollenberg and Campbell family member R. MacLean Campbell spent much of the 1970s laying groundwork for the future community, convincing county officials that the former gravel mine was the best site for growth. Dollenberg petitioned county officials for zoning changes and to get roads and other infrastructure built. By 1978, the county was creating its master plan and in the midst of rezoning large swaths of land.

"We were trying to figure out where an additional 150,000 people were going to live in Baltimore County, and we wanted it north of the watershed for environmental" reasons, said Donald P. Hutchinson, county executive at the time.

The Nottingham property was attractive as a future employment and residential growth center, Hutchinson said, because it was owned by a single entity, making it easier for the county to share costs for extending water and sewer lines and ensure firmer timeframes for completing various phases.

But Dollenberg, who had experience as an engineer, shouldered a big responsibility in proving himself to the county and the business community, recalled Hutchinson, who is now president of SunTrust Bank Maryland Region.

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