The owners of the long-abandoned 55-acre Middle River Depot will be ready to finally begin redeveloping the property in 2012, Baltimore County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins said.
Bevins said she expects development to begin once the council completes the quadrennial comprehensive rezoning process in about 16 months.
“I’ve met with the owners several times already and they are ready to get started as soon as they know what zoning will be in place for the property,” said Bevins, following the annual membership luncheon of the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce at Crab Quarters in Middle River.
Mexican businessman Alberto Saba and New York developers, Joey Aini and Jack Avita, bought the site in 2006 for $37.5 million—then a record for an online government auction.
The developers have paid for the property in full and are are set to turn the site into the destination many in the county envisioned when it was sold, Bevins said.
The councilwoman said she would like to see a mix of housing, retail and office space on the property.
“I’ve been actively seeking input of what residents want developed on the site and I’ve received a lot of feedback," Bevins said. "The biggest thing I would like to see is a mixed-use development that brings quality jobs to the region. That is what’s most important right now.”
The future of the Middle River Depot has been shrouded in secrecy and uncertainty since its purchase by the investors.
The property includes a 1.9 million-square-foot facility once used to manufacture aircraft during World War II. Most recently, the facility had been used as GSA warehouse.
Speaking to the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz expressed interest in the lack of progress on the site.
“We’re going to make contact with the owners,” Kamenetz said. “The owners purchased it at the height of the market and I suspect they regret how much they paid for it.”
Kamenetz added that he understands residents’ frustration over lack of progress in the Middle River Dept development. The poor economy played a large factor in the slow pace of progress, he said.
Kamenetz said development of the depot site will progress as the Route 43 corridor continues to grow. Projects in the area slowed during the recession, although there are several businesses up and running and a is on the way.
Part of the key to attracting businesses to Middle River Depot is continued marketing of the many resources in the area, including the nearby waterfront, Martin State Airport and the MARC station, Kamenetz said.
This is especially important as early estimates of the influx of BRAC jobs expected to come to the county appear to be inflated, the county executive said.
“I think the idea that this was going to be the location of every defense contractor is probably not realistic but we still have the opportunity to do something special not just for eastern Baltimore County but for the whole county,” Kamenetz said. “[Route 43] really the largest land mass that we have that is undeveloped and is zoned in a mixed use fashion. I want to figure out ways to jump start this.”
Somerset Construction Co. President Michael Caruthers, whose company is the master developer of the Route 43 development, Baltimore Crossroads@95, said he expects businesses to come to Middle River Depot and Route 43 as residents start to move in and get settled.
“Energy spurs energy in development,” Caruthers said. “The problem with the development early on along 43 is that they were going after jobs instead of people. When they bring in the people, the jobs will come.
"However, I still need to see that the owners of Middle River Depot have a vision. It’s mind-boggling that they spent $37.5 million on a piece of property and don’t have a concrete plan in place to develop it.”
The recession has created a new economic reality in business, government and in real estate, according to Gayle Adams, president of the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce.
Adams said she was impressed with how much attention Kamenetz has paid to eastern Baltimore County, including his recent “” campaign that highlighted not only local beaches, but taking advantage of nearby restaurants and water activities.
“There is so much opportunity here, and County Executive Kamenetz gets that,” Adams said.