For years, the state has been shifting away from the practice of institutionalizing mental health patients, which healthcare advocates decry as an outdated, insensitive and counterproductive approach to care that undermines patient recovery and stability.

Today, the state's focus is on community placements for patients. Thirty years ago, 70 percent of the state's mental health funding went to state institutions and 30 percent went to community programs, according to Brian Hepburn, executive director of the state's Mental Hygiene Administration, which oversees the state's public mental health system. Today, those numbers are reversed.

'A wholistic look'

Those with a vested interest in the redevelopment of the hospital campus expressed mixed reactions to the report and its findings.

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Lisa Akchin, assistant to UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski, said the university is "very pleased that the university space needs were considered" as part of the study, but that it's "not yet clear how the land uses proposed in the study would meet UMBC's needs for enough land that can be developed at a reasonable cost."

University officials have previously said that, based on economies of scale that apply to research and development parks, the university would need a minimum of 40 acres to meet its needs.

"From the university's perspective, uses on the site depend on resonable development cost," Akchin said.

However the hospital campus is divided, Akchin said, the hope of the university is that it will be done in a distinctive, collaborative way.

"It will ideally happen through a partnership with the county, with the neighbors, with the private sector, so that we can take, collectively, a wholistic look at the Spring Grove site and look at the opportunities for creating a development that is more than the sum of four parts," Akchin said.

"It's very important to us," she said. "The Spring Grove site is really at the university's front door, so the quality of development on that site will define the campus's community and surroundings for decades to come."

Steve Whalen, of Whalen Properties, who has long made known his interest in buying about 30 acres of the hospital land along the Baltimore Beltway to pair with adjacent property he already owns in order to build the mixed-use Promenade project, agreed that the campus must be looked at and dealt with collectively by all those involved.

He has already invested years in the Promenade project, but that will turn to decades if the property is allowed to be redeveloped in a piecemeal way, with the hospital phase occurring before any other phase can begin, he said.

"If every aspect of Spring Grove development has to be done consecutively, (my great-grandchildren) are going to be waiting for this," he said during a recent interview.