Warfield Companies just closed the deal on its 91-acre complex at the former Springfield Hospital site in Sykesville earlier this month, and a groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for next week to celebrate a project that has ebbed and flowed for almost 20 years.
The mixed-use development, being rebrandedfrom the “Warfield Commerce and Cultural Center” to “Warfield at Historic Sykesville,” is configured to support nearly 600,000 square feet of commercial office, light industrial and retail space, approximately 180 residential units, a full-service hotel, and a 27-acre town park upon completion.
Warfield is a series of buildings, many roughly 100 years old, on the former grounds of the Springfield Hospital, a mental institution owned by the state. While Springfield continues to operate on a much smaller basis nearby for forensic patients, the land and these buildings that make up the Warfield complex have been largely unused for decades, since a movement in the 1970s and ’80s to deinstitutionalize mental health.
“It’s great to finally have some action,” said buyer Roger Conley, of the Warfield Companies. “Other than a small building at the top of the hill, there’s been nothing done in the past 10 years. We are trying to make sure [we maintain] those gorgeous old buildings — I mean that's what’s so attractive about it. What I absolutely fell in love with originally.”
The state-owned property sat empty for more than two decades, Conley said, once it was separated from the hospital.
Sykesville Mayor Ian Shaw said he remembers how the town felt when chatter about the space’s future began, including the town possibly purchasing the site.
“It’s funny because [the current plan] wasn’t one of those things that you heard about when they were talking about the town getting it,” Shaw said earlier this month. “The first thing was: There’s talk about putting a Merriweather Post Pavilion [style venue there]. So of course that freaks you out, because 20, 24 years ago, this town was a lot different — a quiet getaway kind of place.”
Thinking about the chances his new rural paradise could be full of concert-goers was something that scared him, he said, and was a concern for many other Sykesville residents as well.
“You're like, ‘Oh my God. This is massive,’ ” said Shaw. “Who knows what could happen? It set off all these red flags.”
When the town purchased the property in the early 2000s, a board was formed to create a master plan with the goal to turn Warfield into a hub for economic development, utilizing state grants to fix the intersection around it and other access roads.
“That's really been the new vision of Warfield,” Shaw said, “to bring the jobs so people can live work and play in one place.”
But with a plethora of state agencies involved, including those involved in historic preservation, and later county agencies, including those with funding for economic development, the board spent years deliberating and working on plans.
Nexion Health, a nursing home facility, was the first business to move into the former Warfield Commerce and Cultural Center about 13 years ago. Since then, the Carroll County Dance Center and Zeteo Tech have also moved in.
“It’s all about using those old building as the anchor,” said Conley. “[When you see] those finished buildings, the Nexion building, it’s really lovely. Twelve or 13 years ago, that was [Nexion CEO] Fran [Kirley’s] vision: He decided to build his corporate headquarters there. The business is in several other states, but he built a headquarters [in Sykesville]. It’s the after photo that we want to show people because the rest of the buildings can be that.”
Kirley, who was on the Warfield board since the beginning, implemented his vision for Nexion in 2007.
“It took one year to get the tax credits of $1.2 million,” he said Thursday, “another year to design and obtain city, state and historical approvals, and finally one year to actual renovate the building.
“Amazing it worked out,” Kirley said.
Now that the property is in the hands of Warfield Companies, plans to roll out phase one are on the horizon.
A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at Warfield on the morning of July 26, before townhouse construction begins on the E and F parcels.
Planner and landscape architect Sean Davis said it’s wonderful to see the plan finally come to fruition with the implementation of phase one, the residential buildings.
“For the last two years we went through the preliminary plan and final plan for the townhomes,” Davis said earlier this week. “So working very, very closely, it was a really collaborative process with the town, planning commission, mayor and Town Council, and a really great collaboration with Carroll County.
“It moved very, very swiftly and smoothly through the preliminary and final engineering approvals, which we obtained back on June 4,” he said, “which then set into motion the closing, the actual purchase of the property from the town to Roger [Conley], to the Warfield Collaborative.”
Seeing everything now is especially rewarding, Davis said, because the current master plan has stayed true to much of what came out of the original master plan in 1998.
“The remaining nine buildings will be rehabilitated and repurposed in a variety of ways as future users, owners and tenants are identified,” said Larry Lichtenauer of Lee & Associates Chesapeake Commercial Real Estate Services.
As a mixed-use complex, Conley said his vision includes room for a small format grocery store with a variety of prepared food options for take-away as well as other items, a hotel, restaurants, and whatever else might be driven there once the residences are developed.
With more than 200,000 square feet of office space available for renovation, Conley said the future is open to what business owners can envision for their prospective spaces.
“It takes somebody, a prospective tenant, that wants to move there to buy it and fix it up and establish a business there,” Conley said. “And we will listen very carefully to them, [taking into consideration] neighborhood livability and connectedness, we are going to look for the kinds of things that support that kind of a vision out there.”