Business research center proposed for Cecil site


The former Bainbridge Naval Training Center, on a hill over looking Port Deposit, would become home to one of the nation's top business technology research centers under a proposal announced yesterday.

Berkshire Laboratories, a small and little-known Columbus, Ohio-based research and development company is looking at opening a 500-acre technology center that it says could create 3,000 or more high-paying jobs at the former Navy boot camp that closed in 1976.

"It is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime deal," said W. Paul Gilbert, director of the Cecil County Office of Economic Development. "The impact on the region could be incredibly profound."

He said the project could result in the development of a campus research center representing an investment of $400 million to $500 million.

Gilbert said most of the workers would be scientists and technicians making high-end wages, and the "economic impact would be felt throughout" the northern Baltimore metropolitan area.

But he cautioned that the impact was possible "only if the company's confidence in its technology is borne out."

"It sounds too good to be true," said Phyllis Kilby, vice president of the Cecil County Board of Commissioners.

Harland R. Graef, chairman of Bainbridge Development Corp., announced plans for the center at its meeting late yesterday afternoon. BDC, as it is commonly called, is a quasi-public agency created by the General Assembly in 1999 to oversee development of the Bainbridge site.

Mark Mortenson, a consultant to Berkshire and spokesman for the company, said it has nurtured its research for eight years and invested $10 million on patents to protect its technology.

He said the company is now moving to commercialize its technology through business arrangements with other companies, including licensing agreements and joint ventures.

Mortenson, asked before the meeting to explain the company's technologies, said they might be able to:

Eliminate unwanted side effects of medicines.

Change the structure of plastic to make it more like metal, with a greater resistance to high temperature.

Remove hydrogen from water or petroleum products. This could be a breakthrough in the auto industry's efforts to develop a clean-burning, hydrogen-powered engine that would have only a small stream of water coming from an exhaust pipe.

Make plants grow faster, which could increase food production.

Significantly expand the memory capacity of computers with modification to equipment already on the market.

Mortenson said Berkshire has also looked at sites in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia for its base of operation, and the competition is now between Bainbridge and Charlottesville, Va.

Graef said that he has asked Berkshire to set aside five dates this week and next to be available to meet with BDC's board of directors, Port Deposit town officials and the county commissioners. A session giving the public a chance to question Berkshire officials has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at the VFW Hall in Port Deposit, he said.

He said that he has also asked Clark Turner, president of the Bel Air-based Clark Turner Cos., to prepare a new concept plan for the 1,200-acre Bainbridge property showing how a 500-acre technology center could be accommodated in a mixed-use residential and business community.

Turner, whose business specializes in residential and commercial development, is part of a team of developers seeking to redevelop the Bainbridge property. Other members include Richard M. Alter, president of Columbia-based Manekin LLC, and John Paterakis, a Baltimore bakery owner and commercial developer.

Turner expressed some caution about dealing with a company of which so little is known, but said: "I'm very excited about the upside potential."

Graef said the ultimate goal of the BDC board is to reach a commitment to move ahead with the Berkshire plan or reject it by the end of the month.

He said it was his understanding that Berkshire was formed in 1995 as a privately funded research center to investigate the science and commercial opportunities for new technology which it calls "Spectral Science."

Gilbert said there is no agreement with Berkshire. "At this point, we are in the discussion stage," he said. "It is not a done deal."

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