Sykesville to launch business, tech park

Former Springfield buildings will be restored over 10 years

`Show people the potential here'

Without developer, town raised funds, found its first tenant

February 27, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Nearly a decade ago, the state organized a tour of a dozen abandoned buildings at Springfield Hospital Center, hoping to generate interest in restoring the property. About 50 developers participated, but none had the vision, the money or the will to create anything from the cluster of stately brick buildings.

It took a small Carroll County town to accomplish that feat.

After years of planning and working to find funds, Sykesville is about to launch a business and technology park in the former hospital wards known as the Warfield Complex.

"It is hard to verbalize all we have had to do, but it is finally happening," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "We have more than $13 million, a nationally recognized company for our first tenant and a master plan for development."

The town of about 4,500 with a budget of less than $2 million has secured millions from the state and Carroll County to build infrastructure, including a new intersection along Route 32, and begin renovations, particularly for a small building that will serve as a model for offices. The town will repay the 20-year infrastructure loan from its profits on leases. The state has long planned the intersection, and the town was able to move up the timetable.

"Sykesville has shown all the private developers how to do this," said Jay French, a development consultant working with the town. "Now it can say, `Take another look.'"

Sykesville established the Warfield Development Authority to oversee the project, which is expected to cost more than $20 million and take 10 years to complete. The authority has signed a lease with Nexion Health Inc., a national health care provider that expects to begin restoration work next month for what will be its new headquarters.

"We are good to go," said Dr. Arthur Peck, chairman of the Carroll County's Industrial Development Authority, which will disburse the state and county funds. "I am really optimistic that this project is getting under way with the team in place to keep it rolling."

Herman said, "The town and the [Industrial Development Authority] are clearly working together for the mutual benefit of Sykesville and the entire county."

Sykesville will use $8.6 million in state highway and county funds to build an intersection at Route 32 near Cooper Drive, creating a new entrance to the complex. An additional $4.7 million, a loan from the state Department of Business and Economic Development, will pay for infrastructure improvements.

"This project incubated for quite a while, but now it has considerable public funds coming into this," said Robert L. Hannon, the department's assistant secretary for the Greater Baltimore Region. "This will be a good adaptive re-use for a state hospital facility."

The proximity to Interstate 70, which is about six miles south of Warfield, "creates an opportunity to gather workers from Carroll County and the western metropolitan area," Hannon said.

Peck agreed that Warfield's easy access to an interstate makes it "a terrific economic development asset to the county."

Peck and Herman both recalled a meeting 10 years ago, when the mayor presented the town's proposal to annex the 96-acre property, restore the existing buildings and build a hotel and conference center.

"I knew it was a great proposal from the moment I heard it," Peck said. "The only problem was: Where would the town get the bucks? Now those dollars have finally materialized."

Undeterred about funding, the town organized a weeklong planning workshop and created a development model for Warfield that promised more than 1,000 jobs. Herman shopped the plan enthusiastically to many agencies and jurisdictions. The town also hired French, who helped with the planning, infrastructure details and negotiations with neighbors such as Fairhaven Retirement Community, which contributed funds to the intersection and will be building on adjoining property.

"I could always see the light at the end of the tunnel and how all these partners could come together," French said. "Developers often see deals unravel, but the county, the town, the state and Fairhaven all made a complete package."

Warfield will make almost 500,000 square feet of space available for development. Nexion, which operates 40 nursing facilities in three states and employs about 6,000 workers, will spend more than $2 million to renovate a building at Warfield's entrance.

Francis B. Kirley, Nexion's founder, predicts that Warfield "will become the hottest property in the area within the next few years."

For Herman, the lease means the project and the town's vision have finally "struck a chord with the corporate world." For Peck, $4 million from the state is a "good start in the right direction and it will show people the potential here."

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