BDC poised to approve Bainbridge contract

Developer hopes to build a 1,000-unit retirement community at ex-Navy site

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

PORT DEPOSIT - One of the final parts of the redevelopment of the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center on a hill overlooking this Susquehanna riverfront town is expected to fall into place Tuesday evening.

That's when Paul Risk Associates Inc., a Quarryville, Pa., development company, is scheduled to be awarded a contract to restore the run-down and condemned ruins of the granite buildings that once housed the turn-of-the-century Tome School, transforming them into a retirement community.

"We are in the final states of negotiations - the 11th hour and 59th minute - and we hope to sign an agreement Tuesday night," said Vernon Thompson, director of the Cecil County Office of Economic Development and a director of the Bainbridge Development Corp.

The BDC, as the group is commonly called, is the quasi-public state agency created by the General Assembly in 1999 to oversee the redevelopment of the 1,250-acre Navy boot camp that closed in 1979.

Under a plan submitted by Risk, the 50 acres of the base containing the Tome School would become a 1,000-unit continuous-care retirement community.

It would be a place where people 55 or older could live out their senior years with most of their needs within walking distance, according to the plan.

"There will be dining facilities, medical facilities, an arts and crafts center and a woodworking shop," said Steven P. Risk, president of the company founded by his father, Paul.

He added: "We are looking at the possibility of an auto hobbyist location and a motorcycle shop, a place where people can rent space to tinker with their cars or motorcycles.

"The baby boomers are coming of age," Risk said, "and we are seeing that we have to change to offer what it is that they want. We will be holding study groups with these people to find out other things that we should be offering."

Plans also call for a barbershop, a beauty salon, a bank and recreational facilities within the retirement center.

Risk said that it might be another five to seven years before the first senior housing unit is ready for someone to move in.

"Normally, you start from a raw piece of ground," Risk said. "At Bainbridge we will need to spend in the neighborhood of $15 million to make the old buildings look new."

Memorial Hall, once the centerpiece of the private school, is an example of the challenges the developer faces. The granite building shows signs of its many years of neglect.

The clock from its tower is gone, replaced with a circle of plywood with peeling paint. Inside, much of the iron railing from twin stairways leading to the auditorium is gone - ripped out by looters. Giant chandeliers suffered the same fate.

Pigeons and other birds make their way in from holes in the decaying roof. A sign outside warns that the building has been condemned.

Under the plan submitted by Risk, Memorial Hall would be restored to its former glory and would house the retirement community's auditorium and library, with housing units off the back.

The headmaster's house would become the company's marketing office.

Three other structures, the Jackson, Madison and Harrison houses, would be living quarters.

The Monroe House, which once housed an indoor pool and a gymnasium, is expected to become a recreation center.

Thompson explained that the BDC advertised for "expressions of interest" in the development of the Tome School site last summer in newspapers in Baltimore, Washington, Wilmington, Del., and New York.

"We had about 20 different developers from up and down the East Coast interested in the property," he said, "but at the end of the day we only had two proposals. Almost everyone who visited the site liked it, but they wanted to build houses there."

At the end of the process, Thompson said, Risk was selected, and negotiations to reach a final agreement have been going on for about four months. "We expect to wrap things up Tuesday," he said.

Bainbridge would be the largest single redevelopment project in Cecil County's history.

A development team headed by Richard M. Alter, president of Manekin LLC in Columbia, was awarded a contract last year to transform the remaining 1,200 acres into a business and residential park that would feature 1,250 homes and a 350-acre employment center designed to attract technology companies.

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