Impact of BRAC

Millions in state funds will be spent in five areas to attract incoming military families and improve communities where they'll live

December 16, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

A planned waterfront development in Westport is among the five locations eligible for millions in state funds intended to encourage military families relocating to Maryland to settle in high-density communities with easy access to mass transit, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown announced yesterday.

The other so-called BRAC zones are around the Odenton and Laurel MARC train stations near Fort Meade, in East Frederick near Fort Detrick, and at a commercial stretch of Prince George's County near Andrews Air Force Base.

The $5 million-a-year tax incentive program is designed to encourage private development by contributing toward infrastructure improvements in the designated areas, beginning in the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2010. Combined with local government and private investment, the program is eventually "expected to generate $150 million in capital funding," Brown said at an Annapolis event.

The federal base realignment, known as BRAC, is expected to bring as many as 60,000 new jobs to Maryland in the coming years, a development that officials have greeted as a potential boon for the economy but also a strain on already overcrowded roads and mass transit systems.

Local leaders lined up behind Brown - who oversees the state's BRAC planning - to announce how they expect to lure skilled professionals and their high incomes.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said the "neglected jewel" of post-industrial Westport has "tremendous potential to attract BRAC households and businesses" for of its Middle Branch waterfront views and easy access to Fort Meade by commuter rail or car.

The city intends to use state funds to subsidize improvements to nearby freeway ramps, repair aging bridges and conduct a feasibility study for a MARC station near Westport that would be part of the existing Camden line between Baltimore and Washington, Dixon said.

Patrick Turner, developer of the 43-acre project, said in an interview that he will finish demolition by the end of this year and begin major infrastructure work on the site around May 2009. Turner said getting a BRAC zone designation, which would be in effect for 10 years, will allow for major improvements in the vicinity of his development, while a tax-increment-financing scheme recently approved by the City Council will enable on-site improvements to begin next year.

The council approved a $160 million bond this month to build and improve infrastructure supporting the planned Westport development and the surrounding community.

Despite the faltering economy, Turner says his $1.4 billion project is on schedule and the first phase of construction should begin in 2010.

Richard Clinch, director of economic development at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute, called the state's program a "well-timed ... good idea," but he questioned whether the relatively small "amount of money is enough to move anything" in a recessionary economy that has frozen much commercial development.

Clinch, who has consulted for both the Westport project and the state's economic development agency, said he thought Baltimore would attract some military workers relocating from downsized installations in New Jersey and Virginia, but probably not as many as city officials hope for.

Turner, however, expressed hope that some defense contractors would set up shop in Westport and encourage their workers to live there as well, because doing so would afford the companies preferential treatment in the awarding of federal contracts.

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold stressed the need yesterday for bigger infusions of cash from the federal government to help local jurisdictions prepare for the influx of military jobs.

The Anne Arundel BRAC zone is a 777-acre plot near the MARC station in Odenton that also encompasses a town center mixed-use project that has languished for years. County officials say revitalization of the project into a vibrant housing, retail and office project is critical to the region's ability to absorb 22,000 employees and their families potentially headed to the nearby Fort Meade area.

In order to qualify, the BRAC zones need to be in a Priority Funding Area under the state's smart growth plan and be designated for mixed-use development, including a residential component.

Laurel officials said they intend to use the money to fund infrastructure improvements in a 293-acre zone that includes Laurel Commons, a $200 million mixed-use redevelopment of the city's mall.

Noticeably absent from yesterday's list is Harford County, home to Aberdeen Proving Ground and by far the largest projected beneficiary of new jobs. By absorbing existing military programs in New Jersey, Virginia and Kentucky, Aberdeen will gain more than 10,000 direct jobs, according to a state analysis.

By contrast, Frederick and Prince George's counties, which did apply for and get BRAC zones, are expected to account for a relatively small portion of the job and population growth from base realignment.

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