"PORT DEPOSIT — It’s going to take support from all levels of government to transform the 1,200-acre former U.S. Naval Training Center at Bainbridge into an economic engine to benefit all Maryland citizens.
That’s the message delivered Monday by Bainbridge Development Corporation Executive Director Donna Tapley and Chairman Michael Pugh to representatives from Port Deposit, Cecil County, the state of Maryland and the federal government.
“We hope this meeting could help us push this project forward,” Pugh said. “We need your help.”
BDC officials briefed the delegation and others Monday on the status of the redevelopment of Bainbridge.
“Some say nothing is ever going to happen there, but I’m optimistic,” said Delegate Kevin Hornberger (R-Cecil) on Monday after a site tour and follow-up meeting at the Donaldson Brown Center ended.
About 20 officials and staff attended the meeting and tour.
“There’s really two separate sites on the property,” Pugh explained for the benefit of several participants that were seeing Bainbridge for the first time.
The largest site, which potentially could be the quicker site to redevelop, is the roughly 1,200-acre former Navy base. Despite the fact that there is site-wide soil contamination, Pugh said industrial use wouldn’t require remediation, so the BDC could attract prospects at that site right away, if it can receive county funding for sewer service in this year’s budget.
“Commercial projects would require some remediation, but not as much as is required for residential use,” Pugh said. “That’s why the plan has changed to focus on nearly 800 acres for commercial and/or industrial users.”
A 50-acre adjacent parcel, which was formerly the Tome School for Boys campus, is the other focus of development for the BDC, which has a new proposal to expand that site to include an additional 100 acres to help entice more interest.
Since the former Tome School site is on the National Register of Historic Places, it increases the cost of redevelopment, which adds another challenge, according to BDC leaders.
The only buildings that remain at the former school are in disrepair, which Pugh says has been caused from years of neglect that started when the Navy still owned the property.
Adding to the problem was a devastating fire in September that severely damaged Memorial Hall, which was thought by many to be the premier building at the Tome School site.
After years of ups and downs, the BDC is now focused on getting the U.S. Navy to pay for environmental cleanup costs. At the same time, the BDC is seeking sewer funding that will enable it to attract companies to the site sooner rather than later. In conjunction with sewer funding, officials are in the process of applying for enterprise zone designation and sustainable communities designation, which would open the door for grants and tax credits.
They are already showing business prospects the site.
“We’d like the state delegation to support improvements to the Interstate 95 interchange at Route 222, and we need funding for Tome School,” Tapley said. “We need the county’s support on the sewer and our federal delegation’s help to put pressure on the Navy.”
The BDC is waiting for the Navy’s response to a new appraisal that was done on the property in February.
“We have to hold the Navy accountable for what they did to this town and this county,” Tapley said.
State Sen. Stephen Hershey (R-Upper Shore) is concerned that the condition of the buildings at Tome School may cost too much to restore.
“One option would be to take it off the Historic Register, but Tome School is near and dear to Port Deposit,” Tapley said. “Right now, there seems to be interest to restoring it.”
Hornberger believes the state delegation has a chance to make serious changes in the county.
“This is one of the biggest opportunities we have to do something positive for Cecil County,” he said. “We’ve got over three years to figure this out.”
Pugh thanked all the officials who attended Monday’s meeting.
“There’s no reason we can’t make this happen if we all agree and go in the same direction,” Pugh said. “It’s the BDC’s mission to be an economic engine, maybe we’re a slow engine, but we have a capable development partner and new leadership.” "
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