Inn owner proposes conference center

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The owner of the Westminster Inn and Bowling Brook Country Inn wants to expand his business by opening a conference center at the country inn in Middleburg.

F. Mark Gross proposes a three-story, 30-bedroom center at Bowling Brook Farm at 6000 Middleburg Road, a 225-acre former horse farm.

"Bowling Brook is a very beautiful setting, the type of peaceful setting that lends itself to getting away from day-to-day business," he said.

Mr. Gross needs approval from the Carroll County Board of Zoning appeals to build the center. A hearing is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Room 7 of the County Office Building.

He also wants to renovate a former horse shed on the property and use it for meeting and exercise rooms.

Mr. Gross said he received many requests from businesses that want to sponsor meetings for 25 to 30 people at the Westminster Inn at 5 S. Center St., but didn't have enough space to accommodate them.

The Westminster Inn has 13 bedrooms, and Bowling Brook has five.

Requests to be the site for business meetings and retreats are increasing, Mr. Gross said. Retreats account for 15 percent to 20 percent of total business, he said.

Companies based as close as Owings Mills have come to Westminster to get away for meetings, he said. Other customers come from the Baltimore and Washington areas.

The Bowling Brook Conference Center would be separate from the country inn, Mr. Gross said. The center and nearby meeting-exercise building would be about 1,000 feet from the inn.

Food would be prepared at the Westminster Inn, he said.

$1 million cost

Mr. Gross estimated the center would cost $1 million to $1.2 million. The first floor would have a large conference area and a kitchen. The two other floors would have 15 bedrooms each, he said.

He plans to convert an old horse shed, which measures 50-feet-by-150-feet, into smaller meeting rooms and an exercise room. The renovations would cost about $800,000, he said.

Mr. Gross has owned Bowling Brook Farm since 1989. The farm was a boarding and training farm for thoroughbred horses until a fire destroyed its historic round barn and killed nine horses in January 1992.

The country inn opened in the fall 1992.

Mr. Gross said he hopes to bring horses back to the farm for guests of the inn and conference center to ride on trails. The cost for liability insurance is too high to do that now, he said, adding that he had talked to state legislators about introducing a bill that would lower insurance costs.

If the county zoning board gives its approval, the center probably would open in late 1996 or early 1997, Mr. Gross said.

7 workers needed

He said he would need seven employees for the conference center. He employs 85 people at the Westminster Inn and the East End Athletic Club, which is at the inn. Bowling Brook Country Inn has one employee.

Cindy Howes, who lives in the 1100 block of Crouse Mill Road next to Bowling Brook, said she would not object to a center.

"We've had no problem whatsoever with them," she said. "We've known everything that's gone on. We've been kept well-informed.

"I really think they've made a beautiful place. It gives our neighborhood a little zip," Mrs. Howes said.

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