Inn given to School for Blind

Owner of Westminster site donates $4 million business for use as revenue source, training

Baltimore & Region

November 04, 2005|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

A Carroll County innkeeper has donated his $4 million business to the Maryland School for the Blind, the largest gift in the 152-year history of the private school for visually impaired and disabled students in Baltimore County.

Mark Gross, who has operated the Westminster Inn, in the county seat, for nearly 20 years, and the school settled on the property Wednesday. "Now we have an inn," said Laurie Farrell, spokeswoman for the school, which serves about 180 students on its Parkville campus and 500 more in communities throughout the state.

"One day, it will be a training site in the hospitality industry and will help our students find gainful employment," she said.

The school initially plans to grow its endowment with profits from the business on Center Street downtown and will eventually provide students with vocational training opportunities.

"This is a new frontier for us," said Elaine Sveen, president of the school founded in 1853. "We are looking forward to it as a wonderful adventure."

Gross, who owns Bowling Brook Inn in Middleburg, renovated the two-story brick building in Westminster into two restaurants, a pub and several guest suites. He soon added the East End Athletic Club with an indoor pool and several exercise rooms to the facility.

A friendship with a blind businessman and the work ethic of several disabled employees impressed Gross, his attorney, Charles E. Stoner, said yesterday.

"Over the years, Mr. Gross hired many disabled people who worked in various jobs at the inn," said Stoner. "He simply reached a point in his life where he wanted to continue those opportunities on a broader scale for those with disabilities."

Stoner interviewed and toured several schools before his client settled on the Maryland School for the Blind.

"He wanted to make Westminster Inn a gift to [the] school, to be used for its benefit," said Stoner. "It was hard for Mr. Gross to part with the inn, but he is very pleased that the school now has it."

When Sveen learned of the gift, which also includes $100,000 in furnishings, art and other accessories, she said it was hard to imagine why anyone would be so generous.

"We are aware that there was competition for this gift," Sveen said. "We feel complimented that we were chosen. ... We are getting a ready-made business set to go, and it will be a fantastic training opportunity for our students."

Little will change for the 16 inn employees or at Maria's Restaurant, which runs the inn's dining rooms. Coakley & Williams Hotel Management Co., based in Greenbelt, has offered to handle daily operations as well as sales and marketing at no charge to the school.

"People in this community should understand that now if they support the business, they are supporting the Maryland School for the Blind," Stoner said.mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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