The first of three buildings at the new Aberdeen Corporate Park off Route 22, aimed at the defense market, sits empty. (BRYNA ZUMER | RECORD STAFF, Bryna Zumer / November 28, 2012)

The new Aberdeen Corporate Park promises 269,000 square feet of LEED-certified office space right off Route 22, close to the I-95 interchange.

But the project's first building sits empty, and two Harford County council members said no one has even looked into leasing space there.

The project owner, Merritt Properties, is one of many developers who were banking on a promised influx of defense contractors to Harford County but are now struggling to fill vacant buildings.

With contractors nervous about a very uncertain federal defense budget, the hoped for influx has not materialized, the county's economic development chief says.

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"I think we have hit a real plateau right at the moment for any kind of new construction, both on the [Aberdeen] Proving Ground and off the Proving Ground, for the short term, and the short term is probably for three to five years," Harford Economic Development Director Jim Richardson said. "Everybody is feeling the pinch."

As recently as last year, Richardson had projected the county would get two or even three contractor jobs for every new defense job coming to APG.

That projection has yet to pan out.

"What we have settled on is just about one to one right now," he said of the contractor-to-defense job ratio.

Richardson confirmed that no one has leased the first Aberdeen Corporate Park building and explained it is simply too hard to get defense contractors to commit right now.

Aberdeen City Manager Doug Miller said he and Mayor Mike Bennett are worried about the Corporate Park project, as well as the COPT's North Gate Business Park project, which is next to the APG employee and contractor gate, and about Fieldside Village, an office development next to Ripken Stadium.

"Two are unfilled and the other is not filled to our expectations," Miller said about those projects. "We are very concerned about all three and the lack of BRAC-related commercial development in the city."

Richardson said while debate rages on whether the so-called "fiscal cliff" on the federal level is just a bump, the outlook is more stark for the world of defense.

"For the defense industry, it's definitely the cliff, because there's a huge cut in defense spending," he said. "We know that Maryland, Aberdeen, will be somewhat insulated from those cuts."

"They're the tip of the sphere to homeland security," Richardson noted about APG and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

He said his department is continuing to work with Aberdeen Corporate Park and Merritt Properties has definitely not pulled out of the project, as they still have two pad sites remaining.

"They are obviously not going to build until they have a contract on those pad sites," he said. "It's still a very viable project and unfortunately, it's just a slow time in the leasing business industry here across the board."

Richardson said business is nevertheless better than it used to be, as BRAC helped the area's economy stay afloat.

"My stock answer to things is, we are still better off today than we were five years ago," he said. "We have 87 new companies in Harford County that are operating. Those are solid and those are not going anywhere."

"It's just that we didn't get the bump-up that we had expected," he continued. "We still have over a billion square feet of new offices that have been leased since 2008."

Even the new year could bring more confidence for the contractor industry, he said.