Faced with a slow downward spiral in its copper refining business, the Cox Creek Refining Co. is phasing out production at its northern Anne Arundel County plant and is considering selling the 165-acre facility.
"The production of copper and copper products here has come to an end," said W. Scott Armentrout, a Cox Creek vice president and the company's general counsel. "The plant is in the process of phasing down its operations."
Although Cox Creek officials have not set a definite date to shutter the plant, which employs about 30, Mr. Armentrout said the closing will likely occur by the end of this year.
The decision on whether to dispose of the 1000 Kembo Road facility, which in 1989 employed 300, is expected in a matter of weeks. Cox Creek officials are consulting with its parent company, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp., Japan's largest trading company with annual revenues in excess of $175 billion.
Cox Creek, formed in 1986 after the purchase of the plant from the Kennecott Refining Co., has been slowly eliminating production at the plant since August 1992, when the company closed a rod mill operation.
Although the possibility exists that Cox Creek could sell its plant to another copper refining concern -- a deal with a Mexican firm collapsed primarily because of the weakness of Mexico's currency -- that scenario is becoming less likely.
"There would probably have to be major modifications made there, as would be required to any plant of that age," said Rosemary Duggins, marketing director of Anne Arundel County's economic development office.
The plant dates to the 1950s.
Cox Creek's possible sale also is being precipitated by an industrial real estate revival in northern Anne Arundel, brought on by shrinking inventories of available buildings.
The vacancy rate for industrial buildings in the county fell to 11.6 percent at midyear, a more than three percentage point drop from a year ago, according to statistics compiled by brokerage house Casey & Associates Inc.
That shortage of space has led the company to study the value of converting the plant's land and its nine buildings to distribution space, Mr. Armentrout said.
The buildings contain a total of 600,000 square feet.
Additionally, several institutional real estate owners have recently flocked to the area, which borders the Baltimore City line, because land prices are less expensive than in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
In May, California pension fund consultant Koll Investment Management Co. acquired the 78-acre Marley Neck Industrial Park, adjacent to the Cox Creek property, to develop as much as one million square feet of distribution space.
And in February, Boston-based Cabot Partners Ltd. Partnership's purchased two existing buildings in Marley Neck for $12.75 million.
Tenants have also found the area appealing. Most notably, Commerce Corp. is preparing to relocate its corporate headquarters and distribution activities to a new 275,000-square-foot project in the Brandon Woods Industrial Park, a 220-acre development south of Cox Creek's plant.