While Carroll County has zoned hundreds of acres for industrial development, environmental and geographical issues make much of the land difficult to develop. A tour of 14 sites last week showed members of the county's Economic Development Commission the situations "firsthand."
"The tour helped put issues into perspective," said Robert G. Holmes, commission director. "We were able to see firsthand the environmental issues, the topography and other impacts. You think you have 500 acres in a property, when you actually have much less."
The tour gave members a look at fully leased business parks and several in various stages of construction in Westminster. It also took them to possible industrial sites in Hampstead, where the state soon will begin building a $76 million Route 30 bypass.
The Owings Mills Corporate Campus showed the low-level brick and glass buildings that make for an attractive employment campus, said Lawrence F. Twele, county director of economic development.
"Generally, during EDC meetings we have discussed buildable land opportunities, but this tour gave us a tangible base to work from," Twele said. "We saw available, marketable land with its challenges and opportunities. Instead of a conference room talk, we had an opportunity to get out and get our arms around something."
The tour stopped at the Maryland Public Safety Education and Training Facility in Sykesville. Once the group saw the welcoming cafeteria behind a wall of windows, they opted for an impromptu lunch.
The facility, where thousands of law enforcement officers can train daily, grew from two former Springfield Hospital Center buildings, once part of the Warfield Complex, a dozen century-old buildings that were the last of 14 tour stops. "The center is a great example of what Warfield could look like as a finished product," said Twele. "It shows Warfield's potential."
Sykesville has worked for nearly a decade to raise money and interest in restoring Warfield's hospital buildings and converting its 96 acres into a business and academic center.
Proximity to Interstate 70 and solid marketing potential gives Warfield great possibilities for luring industry to South Carroll, Twele said. "We are looking at Warfield as the hallmark of what South Carroll can become," he said.
A state, county and town partnership will help develop Warfield, starting with a $4 million state grant that the Economic Development Commission is administering. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. dedicated the complex two months ago, calling Warfield "the cornerstone of a historic place where the opportunities are limitless."
Warfield has signed a lease for its first tenant. Nexion Health Inc., a national health care provider, will convert the I Building into its corporate headquarters. KB Warfield LLC, a newly formed partnership of Nexion executives, will spend more than $2 million to renovate the 16,000-square-foot building.
Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman showed commission members restoration plans as they walked through the building. Two symmetrical wings, lined with windows, flow from either side of a wide foyer at the entrance. Plans call for offices all along the walls.
"There will be so much natural light," said Jay French, a development consultant working with Sykesville on the project. "The beauty of these institutional buildings is that they were built to be functional, and that allows them to be easily developed for office uses."
A second-floor conference room will look out on a portico and executive offices.
"These buildings have lots of light, fresh air and high ceilings," Herman said. "They were originally designed by some of the state's major architects to lighten the spirits of mentally ill patients. We are recipients of old buildings with a modern feel."
About 50 Nexion employees will move into the building by next spring. They will have use of a kitchenette and an employee lounge that will open onto a landscaped terrace.
"We are lucky that our first tenant has the financial strength to do this and to do it right," French said.
The company, which employs about 5,000 nationwide, is growing so rapidly that French hopes to interest them in a second Warfield building, he said.
"The idea is for individual developers to lease the buildings and then develop them themselves," said French.
Carroll Community College also might be interested in Warfield space, said Faye Pappalardo, president of the school, who took part in the tour.
"We want to wait and see, but we are hopeful," she said. "They want higher education here, and we would like to be that entity."
Work will begin soon on a $9.6 million new intersection from Route 32 into the Warfield Center.
"We have the dollars now and that is important," said Herman. "The road will start soon and our first tenant will be here within months."