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Coca-Cola plant on raceway property ruled out


County Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, announced Friday that Coca-Cola Enterprises will not be building a bottling plant and regional headquarters on the Freestate Raceway property in her district.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and County Executive Charles I. Ecker had sought to convince Coca-Cola that Maryland and Howard County were an ideal location.

But Pendergrass was concerned about the amount of water the bottling plant might use and the amount of truck traffic that would be coming in and out of the plant each night.

Pendergrass flew to Cincinnati at taxpayers' expense late last month to look at a Coke operation there. Upon her return she held a June 10 meeting with constituents to discuss her findings.

Among the revelations at that meeting was the fact that one of the Coke buildings would be 83 feet tall. That, and the fact that no Coca-Cola representatives were present to discuss the project sealed its fate, said Bruce Jaffe, a consultant hired by the owner of the property to develop it.

Jaffe said Skopbank, owner of the Freestate property, broke off negotiations with the company and will go forward with plans to develop a 350,000-square-foot shopping center that would include "national credit tenants" and "help improve the character of Route 1."

"Less of a veil of secrecy [about the Coca-Cola project] might have helped," Jaffe said. "There would have been less fear, less suspicion in the community -- less concern on the part of citizens and more understanding of what was happening. The veil of secrecy impeded constructive dialogue."

Ecker said he had not been told officially of the project's demise.

"We are looking at several sites," Ecker said. "If we lose Coke, it will be bad for the county. But we haven't lost yet."

Pendergrass indicated that Coke may locate elsewhere in the county.

"The county and myself are pro-business and would love to see Coke, a good corporate citizen locate in Howard County," she said. "However, the current recession is no excuse for locating business in the wrong place."

Ecker estimates having a bottling plant and regional headquarters in the county would create 200 to 500 new jobs.

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