Business response to BRAC urged

Influx of jobs in area to tax infrastructure

November 11, 2005|By JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS | JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS,SUN REPORTER

Anne Arundel County and Fort Meade decision-makers sounded a clarion call yesterday for the private sector to play a key role in preparing for the arrival of thousands of workers and their families from a nationwide military realignment.

"Think big picture," County Executive Janet S. Owens said to more than 100 business people who gathered for a briefing about the base realignment and closings, known as BRAC, which became law Wednesday.

"We really do need you to invest in this," she said.

Companies don't seem to need the prodding. They're jumping in line to get a piece of the action, though Fort Meade's commander said the jobs won't start arriving before 2008 and most aren't scheduled to move until 2010.

Columbia-based Corporate Office Properties Trust, which develops and leases buildings that are largely used by federal government agencies and their contractors, expects the northwestern Anne Arundel area, on and off the base, to need 10 million square feet in office space for BRAC activity and other additions to Fort Meade.

That's the equivalent of the former World Trade Center in New York and significantly higher than the county's estimates.

"We've been taking steps accordingly to be in a position to handle a good portion of that," said Randall M. Griffin, president and chief executive of Corporate Office Properties Trust, one of Anne Arundel's largest landowners.

"It's a ... significant positive impact, and it will require a lot of visionary thinking on the infrastructure, on the amenities, on the types of facilities that we'll require, and really a collaborative effort. We're happy to play our part."

The Baltimore area will be a prime beneficiary of the base realignment, which for most other areas is primarily about job losses rather than gains.

Local officials expect 5,300 new government jobs at Fort Meade and more than 6,100 at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County. The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development said yesterday that the total effect on the Baltimore region could be 40,000 to 45,000 added jobs as contractors and service providers cluster here.

Anne Arundel's economic development director expects his area to gain at least half that number.

It's unclear how much housing will be needed because some of the 4,000 Defense Information Systems Agency employees in Northern Virginia might decide to commute when their jobs are moved to Fort Meade. But most of the people who move here won't be living on base. About 90 percent of the government jobs are civilian, said Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy, Fort Meade's commander.

"The changes that are going to be happening in this area are immense," he told the crowd, which filled a meeting room in a building used by one of the many defense contractors already located near the base. "Everyone's going to be touched."

McCreedy said the local annual economic impact of Fort Meade and the on-base National Security Agency is about $4 billion now and should rise to $5 billion once the base realignment is complete.

Owens and county planning director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. said repeatedly yesterday that they have been planning for this growth for several years and feel prepared, despite rising impact estimates and local concerns.

Rutter said 4,000 planned homes have passed key hurdles of the regulatory process and are in the pipeline for the northwest triangle of the county that Owens has dubbed the "gold coast." More than 1,100 other units are waiting for approval.

Developers have also asked permission to build 8.5 million square feet of offices and "flex" buildings and nearly 700,000 square feet of retail space in the area, Rutter said. He believes it will take about a decade for all of it to be constructed.

"Yes, there will be people, but ... we're prepared," he said. "We need to work on predictability [in development permitting], and we intend to do that."

Owens said the county is coordinating plans for road improvements in the area - particularly to Route 175 near the base - and is lobbying the state for more money to construct schools.

The private sector's involvement in BRAC might not be limited to building off base. McCreedy said the Army, concerned that funding won't cover all the needs, is considering whether to offer developers 30- to 50-year "enhanced use leases" on Fort Meade land.

The developers would pay a fee of cash or services for the lease. They would then build offices or other commercial space, charge fair-market rents to the government agencies or contractors inside and turn the buildings over to the Army when the lease expires.

William A. Badger Jr., chief executive of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., the county's economic development arm, told the crowd yesterday that the time to act has arrived, but it won't end soon.

"We have a tremendous - what I'd call a half-century - opportunity ahead of us," he said.

jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.com

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