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Enterprise zone holds promise for Edgewood

THE BALTIMORE SUN

County officials and community leaders are nothing less than ecstatic over the recent designation of Edgewood as an enterprise zone, where they expect at least 200 jobs to be created and $25 million to be invested in the next three to five years.

The state-funded program geared to revitalizing economically stressed areas will make income tax and property tax credits, as well as some low-interest loans, available to new and existing businesses in Edgewood.

"I think we're sitting on top of the greatest resurrection of a community you could imagine," said Bob Santoni, whose Santoni's Market anchors the 40-year-old Edgewood Shopping Plaza at Edgewood and Hanson roads in the heart of Edgewood. The shopping center, which houses 10 businesses, is scheduled for a face lift beginning later this month.

The designated area includes about 2,500 acres and stretches generally along Route 40 from the Baltimore County line east to Route 24 and along Route 755 from Route 24 south to the Edgewood area of Aberdeen Proving Ground.

It was one of four new enterprise zones announced last month by the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development. The others were Waterview Industrial Center in Baltimore City, the town of Snow Hill in Worcester County and the city of Fruitland in Wicomico County.

The designation could be just the incentive that hesitant commercial and industrial investors need for making a commitment to improving the aging community in southern Harford, community leaders said.

Edgewood Shopping Plaza is one of eight sites within the enterprise zone where improvements or additions are being proposed, said Paul Gilbert, Harford director of economic development. He suggested the idea of an enterprise zone to Route 40 business leaders last winter.

The largest proposed improvement is a 100-acre industrial park to be constructed near Routes 7 and 755 adjacent the S & G Concrete Co. To be called Lakeside Business Park, it would be developed by FRP Development Corp. of Sparks and would house offices and manufacturing operations. Mr. Gilbert said that if it is used at the same density as Riverside Business Park, Lakeside could be home to 1,200 jobs.

Other projects that have been announced within the enterprise zone include:

* A $3.5 million ice skating arena to be built in the William Paca Industrial Park on Route 7, east of Route 24. Tobias Kaye, who heads the group building the rink, said ground will be broken later this month and a 63,000-square-foot facility will open by November.

* Construction of a corporate headquarters building for Aberdeen Proving Ground Credit Union in Woodbridge Center on Route 40. The 60,000-square-foot building would house more than 200 employees, some of them in new jobs.

* Expansion of the Walk-In Medical Center in the 2000 block of Pulaski Highway. Dr. Rafiq Patel says he'll double the size of his clinic, where general medical care, minor surgery, physical therapy and radiology services are offered.

* A 55,000-square-foot expansion of the USCO distribution center in Fashion Park, off Route 7.

* A distribution center to be built for the Clark Group in the Paca Industrial Park. The New Jersey-based distributor of newspapers and magazines plans to hire up to 60 people.

* Construction of corporate headquarters for Wolpert and Master Hydroseeding and Landscaping in Clayton Station, a commercial park on Route 40.

Mr. Gilbert estimated that, including the cost of building the infrastructure for the proposed Lakeside Business Park, about $25 million would be invested by private companies in the eight projects already proposed in the enterprise zone. As a result, he said, about 350 jobs -- 200 of them new -- would flow into the Edgewood area in the next one to three years.

Through the program, companies in an enterprise zone are eligible for a 10-year property tax credit for expansions and renovations. They also can get a $500 income tax credit for each job created and up to $3,000 for each "economically disadvantaged" person hired to fill a new job.

"All the enterprise zone does is rely on tax incentives to spur private investments," Mr. Gilbert said. "It's not free money. It feeds the opportunity for investment by the private sector."

Community leaders agree that the state recognition is a positive step for an area that has suffered from a poor image and social and economic deterioration for years.

Like many of the older suburban areas in the Baltimore metro area, Edgewood is beset by increasing unemployment and declining wages, rising crime, an aging population and deteriorating commercial centers that no longer adequately serve the people surrounding them.

Many of its neighborhoods date to the 1950s and 1960s. While the homes have remained well-kept, with clean streets and neatly maintained lawns, the years have not been as kind to the commercial areas of Edgewood.

"For rent" and "for sale" signs are common on the commercial and industrial land along Route 40 from Joppatowne on the west to the two major shopping centers that sit opposite each other near Edgewood Road. Even there, in what has evolved into the commercial center of Edgewood, vacancies are common and physical decay is evident.

On Route 755, a commercial area that slices through the heart of residential Edgewood, clusters of small stores and auto repair shops alternate with an occasional closed gas station or boarded-up building, with signs seeking buyers or renters.

Farther from the hub, once-promising industrial land is underdeveloped and overgrown with weeds, a sign of the '80s boom that went bust. Some dilapidated buildings remain from the days before interstate highways, when Route 40 was a major east-west thoroughfare.

"Things get old, and this is a community that needs a pick-me-up. . . . But now we've got some tools to move the remodeling along faster," Mr. Santoni said.

Dr. Patel, on whose property County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann made the formal announcement of Edgewood's status last month, may be the first to take advantage of the tax credits. He has preliminary approval for expanding his clinic, which he has operated in Edgewood for 20 years.

The enterprise zone is the latest coup in a multiphased effort to revitalize Edgewood that began two years ago with the Edgewood-Route 24 Task Force. Led by state Del. Mary Louise Preis, a District 34 Democrat, that group has secured $120,000 from the State Highway Administration and the county to install sidewalks, lighting, flowering trees and thematic street decorations in the Route 40 shopping district.

Mr. Santoni, who helped draft the enterprise zone application, said the community may be able to secure low-interest loans through the state to finance expansion of the face lift and landscaping to all of Edgewood's commercial areas.

"This could be an example to the rest of the country that you don't have to use enterprise zones in the cities," he said.

Most of Maryland's 24 enterprise zones are not in cities, according to the Department of Economic and Employment Development, which changed its name to the Department of Business and Economic Development on July 1.

Jerry Wade, enterprise zones administrator, said the majority of the enterprise zones are in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore, often where unemployment is concentrated in whole towns that have lost a chief source of jobs.

He said Edgewood qualified as a zone because of its low family incomes compared with those in the rest of Harford County. He regards Edgewood as a potential success story among state-designated zones.

"I'm fairly optimistic, given all the community effort and planning that went into it," he said. "It looks like it's a priority in the county."

Susan B. Heselton, who represents Edgewood on the Harford County Council, agrees. She long has maintained that Edgewood residents feel they have had to shoulder an undue share of economic hardship.

"This [enterprise zone] will play a part in changing the face of Edgewood. But that's because Edgewood wants to change its look," Mrs. Heselton said.

"We have always had the motivation. By having the enterprise zone now, we're one step closer to making this a good place to live."

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