Architects rendering shows the rear exterior of the planned… (Photo provided by Water's…)
CACI, one of the dozens of defense contractors at Aberdeen Proving Ground, wanted a large-scale meeting between corporate leadership in Arlington, Va., and the 350 employees scattered in different locations on the post in Harford County. Its management quickly realized that no facility on post or nearby could handle that large a crowd.
"From time to time, we need a large space," said Ed Thomas, spokesman for the information technology company. "At this point, we have to travel to Baltimore to find that space."
That could change within a year with the construction of the $9 million, nearly 32,000-square-foot Water's Edge Events Center on Route 40 in Belcamp.
Water's Edge Corporate Campus, with several occupied office and retail complexes, presented an ideal location for the center, with its sweeping views of the Bush River and proximity to APG, said Clark Turner and Jim Foulk, who have partnered on the project. It's set to open next summer.
"We already know the military and defense contractors have a large demand for really well-planned meeting space," said James Richardson, county director of the Office Economic Development. "We are thinking about a space, off-base, that would be open to the military and all industries as well as the community."
A destination study, commissioned by Harford County last year to boost tourism, found a gap in the opportunities the area can offer for business, industry and the community gatherings. The study, conducted by Chicago-based C. H. Johnson Consulting, Inc., in partnership with the Greater Baltimore Committee, identified Harford's growing demand for space for secure meetings, business conferences and social events in a pleasant setting.
"APG has auditoriums, but no place for daylong meetings with food service and spaces for break-out sessions," Richardson said. "Then, there is the issue that not everyone wants to go through the process of getting on post. With this center, we can offer space opportunities without roadblocks."
The market study said Harford cannot compete with larger cities "because the facility and lodging inventory does not exist to support the existing or future evolution of these markets. Once there is a facility available to accommodate meetings and conventions, as well as a full service hotel(s), we anticipate that the economic impact from this business will be substantial."
The corporate campus is located on the Route 40 corridor, between the Edgewood and Aberdeen sections of APG.
"We were used to having many large facilities in New Jersey. We hoped something similar would become available here, and now it looks like it will." Thomas said. CACI moved from Fort Monmouth, N.J., which closed as a result of the nationwide military base realignment known as BRAC.
APG has grown significantly, by 2,300 jobs last year alone, and much of the Army's communications command moved there from Fort Monmouth. The county has also welcomed dozens of new defense contractors and several associated professional organizations to the post and its surroundings.
"This kind of center is what we need here," said Jim Costigan, a retired colonel who works for General Dynamics C4 Systems on the post. "BRAC has really transformed this post from a heavily blue-collar ordnance center to a science and technology center that many officials will visit, and many of them control the purse strings."
The two-level brick building will include a conference center, two banquet halls with water views, a private dining area and outdoor entertaining space.
At completion, the entire campus, located on the grounds of the now-razed Bata Shoe Factory, will include about 500,000 square feet of commercial office space and mixed-used business, retail opportunities and possibly, a hotel. Four multi-story office buildings and five single-story mixed-used buildings on the site are 92 percent occupied, Foulk said.