Coke to delay construction of $200 million plant in Howard


In another setback for one of the largest economic development projects in the metropolitan area, Coca-Cola Enterprises told Howard County officials yesterday that it is delaying construction of a $200 million syrup and bottling plant that would bring 500 new jobs to the county.

Coca-Cola, which has scheduled an announcement for today, told county officials that "technological changes" have forced the company to alter its plans. Company and government officials refused to explain further.

The change of plans is the latest in a series of problems that have plagued the project since Coke announced plans to build the plant on a 122-acre site at Parkway Corporate Center east of U.S. 1 near the Anne Arundel County line.

When Coke first announced plans for the 10-story, state-of-the-art production and distribution plant, the company said the project would provide jobs for 300 construction workers and would bring 500 new technical and managerial jobs to the county. The plant would add about $4 million a year in corporate taxes to the Howard County coffers.

Katherine Whiting, a Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. spokeswoman, declined to comment on the company's plans yesterday.

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker would not confirm or deny the construction halt. "Coca-Cola is planning an announcement, I can't say any more than that," he said. But sources familiar with the project confirmed it is being delayed, though they would not say for how long.

Howard County Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, who has been critical of the way the Coke deal was consummated, also refused comment. "The executive called me and briefed me, which I appreciated," she said. "Since I've been briefed, I'm not at liberty to say anything at all."

Ms. Pendergrass objected so strongly when Coke sought to build a plant on the Freestate Raceway site in North Laurel that the company located a Dorsey industrial park site owned by Joseph G. Svatos. The property was to become what Mr. Svatos called a "Coca-Cola Campus," housing the company's regional headquarters, as well as one of the largest manufacturing operations in the state.

The company bought the property for $15.2 million on Oct. 9, 1992, and three days later held a gala news conference in the county building with state and county officials to announce the deal.

The transaction almost didn't come off when Ms. Pendergrass objected to the company's last-minute request for a $5 million reduction in water- and sewer-connection charges at the Dorsey site.

Ms. Pendergrass wanted the County Council to conduct an evening public hearing on the water and sewer request on Oct. 19, but was told Coke could not wait that long and that to do so would kill the deal.

After talking with Mr. Svatos, local Coke officials, Chamber of Commerce representatives, the governor, and the county executive, Ms. Pendergrass agreed to a hastily arranged public hearing and vote to approve the reduced charge immediately.

The next problem came nearly a year later when the company informed Mr. Ecker that it did not have enough room on the Dorsey site to build a 1.25 million gallon-per-day waste-water treatment plant needed in the operation. The company said it or the county would have to buy 15 acres adjacent to the Dorsey site to house the plant. The additional property was never purchased, however, and will no longer be needed.

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