Partner sought to finish Warfield

Sykesville seeks developer to manage rest of construction


Sykesville might soon turn over development of its long-planned business center to a master developer, but the town will not relinquish control of the project, which it has directed for the past decade.

The town might hire a commercial developer that would complete construction of its Warfield Corporate and Culture Center, a project that has evolved from a cluster of vacant state hospital wards, town officials said.

"We are trying to strike a fine balance between giving up control and the overwhelming job of running a multimillion-dollar project," said Mayor Jonathan Herman. "We would like to partner with a master developer, someone who could partner with us in a long-term lease."

The town has secured nearly $15 million in state and county funds to construct an intersection linking Route 32 to the complex, install utilities and start development initiatives.

The first tenant -- Nexion Health Inc., a national health care provider -- is spending $2 million to convert the 16,000-square-foot I Building into its corporate headquarters and might lease more space on the campus.

The town of about 4,500 has reached a crossroads. With an annual budget of about $2 million and limited staff and resources, it cannot continue to search for grants, advertise for tenants and build infrastructure that will lure businesses.

"We have a limited amount of money to put into more infrastructure and to manage, oversee and advertise this project," Herman said.

Jay French, a business consultant working with the town on the Warfield project, said Sykesville has accomplished much but that "there is no way we can do everything. We have put together an enormous pot of money and spent nearly all of it getting the initial work done."

It could take a decade and an additional $20 million to complete Warfield, but its solid marketing potential and proximity to Interstate 70 should easily attract tenants as the work proceeds, French said. When complete, the Warfield center promises more than 1,000 jobs, a hotel and conference center, and a 40-acre park.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. dedicated Warfield in May, calling it "the cornerstone of a historic place where the opportunities are limitless."

Sykesville Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols said the council has yet to review the proposal. Any developer's plan "has to fit into our ideals," she said. "We have not wavered from our plan for 10 years, despite pressures from many sides. I really don't want to give up control."

Several commercial developers have approached the town about purchasing parts of the nearly 100-acre Warfield property, officials said. The town will stress the concepts of partnership and long-term leases.

"We are searching for a developer to take over from where the town is in the development process," French said. "We want a company that can finish the project, one who can use what we have done as a springboard for a larger, more coordinated, better-financed project. With land becoming scarce, we think we have much to offer."

The state made Warfield available for renovation a decade ago, soliciting offers for developing a dozen century-old buildings and surrounding land. No developer was willing to take on a project of such size and cost. Only the town expressed interest, and its officials created a plan for the property to which the state has contributed millions of dollars.

In the past 10 years, Sykesville has annexed the property and started building the infrastructure. It broke ground this month on a $9 million intersection that will be the gateway to Warfield from Route 32.

The town was also instrumental in bringing the Maryland Public Safety Education and Training Center to Carroll County. The $60 million center began with the renovation of two Warfield buildings.

"We have spent 10 years answering all the questions, generating interest in this property and building," Herman said. "We can really deliver a piece of real estate that is ready to go."

The town has enacted zoning that will ensure the project evolves in keeping with its vision, he said.

"Warfield is not wide open to development," the mayor said. "Zoning, covenants and design guidelines basically ensure Warfield turns out the way the town wants."

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