The Harford County Council is mulling a proposal to sell the Washington Court property in Edgewood to a Baltimore-based company that would build sports fields on the disused land.
Coppermine Fieldhouse has expressed interest in building eight turf fields on the 35-plus acre property to draw tournaments to Harford County and provide a space for community sports teams in Edgewood. The Washington Court property is located off Cedar Drive, behind Edgewood Elementary School and the Boys & Girls Club.
Council will make a decision on rezoning the area for commercial amusement and recreation within the next couple of weeks, council president Patrick Vincenti said. It is currently zoned residential.
Residents and business owners took notice and turned out to overwhelmingly voice their support for the project. Over 20 people signed up to deliver their messages of approval to the council Tuesday night, with one calling the proposal “the best thing to come through Edgewood in recent memory.”
The proposed sale price for the land is $1, a far cry from what the county paid for it near the turn of the century, but the projected gains from adding sports fields could make it worth it, officials said.
Executive director of Visit Harford!, a nonprofit responsible for promoting the area, Greg Pizzuto said that soccer and lacrosse alone tournaments brought $24 million a year to the county between 2013 and 2015, forecasting the project’s economic impact. Pizzuto also noted there was a dip in 2016 through 2018′s sports revenue to $16.7 million, but it was due to poor weather and the venue’s capacities.
“Two things impact sports tourism, capacity and weather,” Pizzuto said. “These fields will not be as impacted by weather.”
Coppermine’s founder Alex Jacobs, who spoke to the council, said the company maintains nine properties around Maryland, and that the proposed fields could be just the beginning of a deeper involvement with Harford County.
The agreement as currently written would lock Coppermine into a 20-year contract, though it would be granted the land’s title after investing $5 million.
One field costs about $1.3 million to build, Jacobs said. Turf also stands up to the elements better than grass, reducing the costs of repairing wet grass fields that athletic cleats tear up.
“We look at this as a way to prove ourselves to Harford County,” Jacobs said. “We have no intent to say, after 20 years, we are putting up apartment homes.”
The county purchased Washington Court from the federal government in 2001 for $992,000 after the military housing on it was decommissioned in 1994. From there, a revitalization effort began, but ultimately stalled after a recession hit the county and a private developer backed out of building homes on the site in 2011.
In 2017, a new plan was unveiled that made the property central to resuscitating the area of “Old Edgewood.” That plan called for homes to be built on the property.
Jacobs explained that the fields could draw over 6,000 people a week to Edgewood for tournaments or local community use. The aim, multiple business owners and members of the council articulated, is a rise in sports tourism revenue.
That tourism revenue is attractive to the county — people come, spend their money and leave without requiring civic services. And the potential gains are not small.
According to a study commissioned by Visit Harford!, sports tourism brought the county close to $50 million and supported almost 650 jobs between 2016 and 2018.
Those numbers come from an accounting of youth baseball, lacrosse and soccer tournaments — primarily at three venues: Cedar Lane, Ripken Stadium, and Harford Polo Grounds.
“Based on that study that was done … we know those tournaments bring people to the area,” Vincenti said. “We have the benefit of being able to host them.”
The fear is that Harford County could lose those dollars to neighboring Baltimore County.
With the impending closure of fields on Carsins Run Road, the county saw a need to bolster its athletic offerings. Vincenti said the approximately 36 acres near Aberdeen will stop operating around November.
Patricia Parker, who works for Hilton hotels, said the fields were needed. Visitors from outside the county — or even state — pump money into the local economy, which works to everyone’s benefit.
“We need these fields. With the loss of Carsin’s Run, we are at a pivotal spot for our industry,” she said. “What is [Washington Court] worth sitting there vacant for the last however many years?”
Coppermine would essentially be given the property, which it would then put up as collateral to secure funding for the fields’ construction, Jacobs said. The venture is expected to generate between $700,000 and $1.5 million in taxes for the county over 20 years.
Founded in 2011, Coppermine supports youth sporting activities around the state. In addition to soccer, lacrosse and baseball, they offer dance, gymnastics, football, tennis and other recreational programs and camps.