Joppatowne residents to rally for closed swim club

Some Joppatowne residents plan to protest the closure of a swim club, which could potentially be bought by a large Baltimore-based church.

A rally is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Mariner Point Swim Club, also known as the Joppatowne Swim Club, on Joppa Farm Road.

Southern Baptist Church, which is based in Baltimore and also meets in Aberdeen, has been in negotiations to buy the property.

Representatives of the church attended a Joppa-Joppatowne Community Council meeting in the spring to discuss the church's plans to acquire the swim club.

Community leaders, however, said this rally is only to protest the closure of the club, not to make a stand against the church's plans.

The club is owned by Murray Stephens, who also owns the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center in Baltimore and a swim club in Lancaster, Pa., according to online records.

The swim club's voice mailbox was full when a call was placed Thursday. A message left at Meadowbrook Thursday was not returned.

Harford County Councilman Dion Guthrie, who represents Joppa, said he would like the county to buy the site.

"There was hope that if this contract was to fall through that I could convince the county to purchase the property and make it a community center. That is really what the community would like," Guthrie said.

"The community is involved because it hasn't been open all summer, won't open at all," he said.

The 4.5-acre swim club has been owned by Stephens since 1995 and was assessed at $454,600 this year, according to state property tax records.

Southern Baptist Church representatives, meanwhile, said it plans to finalize the purchase in the next few months and would like to build a "community life center," with a sanctuary of 400 to 600 seats, in three to five years.

The church is based in east Baltimore and has been meeting at Aberdeen High School's auditorium since 2011, after it outgrew the Regal Cinema theater in Abingdon.

In response to residents' requests, the Rev. Donte Hickman said, the church would like to keep the pool open during the summer for the few years before the church gets built.

He said the Joppatowne site makes sense for the church, however, and he has met with the community councils of Joppatowne and Edgewood to discuss it.

The facility, which would cost $6 million to $7 million, would include a gym and a banquet hall as well as sanctuary and other spaces, Hickman said.

"That would be more, I think, of an amenity to the community, seeing as how Harford County does not have a great number of banquet halls and community life centers available," Hickman said.

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