At the time, 200 patients and 500 employees were displaced, with most of them moved to other state psychiatric hospitals. A few nonprofit groups rent space in the old hospital buildings, but most are vacant.

"This will be the second closure I've had. I had a ton of customers from the hospital," Peter said.

Like Harbor Auto, his staff drives customers to work at the housing department while their cars are repaired. He's built up a steady business with housing workers.

"I'm extremely disappointed in the decision, not only as a business owner, but I'm also disappointed as a taxpayer," Peter said.

The state will pay $58 million over 15 years to lease the new space in New Carrollton.

Peter said he thinks the state should line up a new tenant for the housing building before moving the workers.

The building at 100 Community Place — also called the "Peoples Resource Center" — is 155,900 square feet and was built in 1991, according to the state.

Bob Burdon, CEO of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, said local businesses will take a hit until another business or agency moves into the state-owned housing department building.

"Certainly when you have something of that size moving out of the local area here, those employees represent economic activity," Burdon said.

Even $10 lunches a few times a week, multiplied by hundreds of workers, add up to a significant economic impact, he said.

Burdon said the chamber will work to help find another tenant for the building. If successful, that could prove financially beneficial for the county and the local economy in the long run, he said.

"The question is: What can we do moving forward to try to replace the economic activity?" Burdon said. "We have an opportunity to fill space that was once occupied by the public sector with private-sector businesses."

pwood@baltsun.com