`Massive' business park planned for APG

Project said to have potential for 10,000 new civilian jobs

February 27, 2005|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

A Rockville company is proposing to develop a 300-acre business and technology park at Aberdeen Proving Ground that, when completed, could more than double the number of civilian jobs at the military installation, which is already the county's largest employer.

County Executive James M. Harkins described it as a "massive technology park" that has the potential of creating 10,000 jobs.

"It will be an economic development accelerator" that will benefit Harford County and the state, said Aris Melissaratos, the state's secretary of business and economic development. "It's like a godsend."

He said the project could stimulate development in Harford County the way the National Security Agency has along Route 32 near its base at Fort Meade. It would also be a boon to APG as the Defense Department moves into its process of determining which military bases to close or realign to streamline its operations for wartime demands.

The developer, Opus East LLC, has laid out plans for a $300 million technology park featuring more than 1 million square feet of office space, nearly that amount in structures designed for research and development work, and 800,000 square feet of laboratory space.

Although the plan is still in the conceptual stage, the developer is looking at a campus-like setting that could include more than a dozen buildings along with a 250- to 300-room hotel and conference center. The project is called Government and Technology Enterprise, or GATE.

It will provide federal agencies, government contractors and private companies the security that comes with being located on a military base behind a fence and guarded gate.

Jim Lee, president of Opus East, said the company expects to start construction later this year, most likely in the third quarter. It would take eight to 10 years to complete the project, he said.

Lee said the company is in the final phase of its business plan and is close to an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to start work.

Concerning prospective tenants, Lee said planners expect to see "a migration of companies and federal agencies that need higher security" than what they have at their present locations.

"This is a unique office park inside the gate of a military base," he said.

As an example of the type of tenants the park would be designed to house, Lee offers a news report saying that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is looking for a new headquarters site. The Bethesda-based agency does mapping and analysis of satellite photographs for the military. "It is going to create other opportunities," said J. Thomas Sadowski, Harford County's economic development director. "There could very well be spinoff companies" resulting from the kind of work that is expected in the park.

"It's the exact kind of economic development we need in this county," said William Seccurro, president and chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce of Harford County. "There could be a lot of good-paying professional and technology jobs."

Opus East is one of the five operating companies of The Opus Group, which is based in Minnetonka, Minn. The parent company is one of the nation's leading development companies.

It is currently constructing the Enterprise Business Park on a 92-acre site in Perryman. The park is designed to house two huge distribution warehouses.

A few other Opus projects completed in recent years include:

Arundel Crossing, an eight-building, 2 million-square-foot business park in Odenton that was completed last year.

Metro Place, a business park with more than 500,000 square feet in Merrifield, Va., near the intersection of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 66.

The American Express Financial Advisors headquarters building in Minneapolis.

The GATE project at APG will be a little different from most of the company's other developments: The Army will remain in control of the property.

Under terms of the agreement between Opus and the Army, the company would enter into what Lee called an "enhanced-use" lease. Instead of paying rent on the property, the company will supply services to the Army such as snow removal, putting a new roof on a building or constructing a new building.

The lease agreement allows the Army to keep the land, said George Mercer, a spokesman for APG, and to benefit from the value of the property.

"If an emergency comes up and we needed the land for something else, we could get it back," Mercer said. "The Army also remains the decision-maker on the use of the property. If a company is not compatible with what we do here, we could say no."

The GATE project would be on land near the Maryland Boulevard entrance to the base that Mercer described it as a mostly wooded area with a pond and a picnic area. It was previously used for military training.

APG is strategically located to attract businesses from Baltimore, Washington, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia and New York, said Lee.

He said the technology park would also benefit from its proximity to three major airports, as well as the 8,000-foot runway at Phillips Army Field on the base; Interstate 95; and train service.

Asked if GATE would compete with the redevelopment of the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Port Deposit, Lee responded: "I don't think so. Bainbridge is designed to attract a different type of company."

Lee said the closeness of the two projects could breed business activity. "I would rather have good competition," he said. "If we were the only people up there, people would wonder why."

Civilians account for most jobs at APG, according to Mercer. He said there are about 7,700 civilian employees on base and 5,100 military personnel. Another 2,600 contractors work on base.

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