Firm has plans for Balto. Co. lagoon project

Hoping to create a shoreline promenade and tourist anchor on land once envisioned as a "mini-Harborplace," aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. is putting together a major development project that will be key to Baltimore County's waterfront revitalization plans.

The plan comes as a previous proposal for a tourist destination at the headwaters of Middle River is stalled. In addition to the promenade, Lockheed Martin officials' plan includes a 200-room hotel, waterfront condominiums, shops and offices, say those who have seen the proposal over the past several months.


Officials said the project would be centered on Dark Head Cove, a deep-water lagoon near Martin State Airport that is steeped in aviation history. It is also where a mini-Harborplace was first talked about years ago.

An influential consortium of community groups says the project would be a significant improvement over the attraction proposed several years ago for the headwaters of Middle River.


"The focus for a destination has shifted to Dark Head Cove and with sound reason," said John Polek, president of the Marine Trades Association, representing more than 60 marina owners. "It's a preliminary concept Lockheed Martin showed us, but even at that stage it was exciting."

He pointed to the 12-foot depth of the Dark Head Cove lagoon and the proposed project's location at a nexus of air, highway, rail and water transportation.

A spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said the project would bring the type of development sought by county government and the community.

The Dark Head Cove project "is an eye-opener and broadens our understanding of the enormous possibilities for a waterfront destination," said the spokesman, Damian O'Doherty.

O'Doherty said the previously planned waterfront destination at three underused private marinas on Middle River remains a possibility.

Although $800 million has been invested in the east side's heralded rebirth, residents and community leaders had strong indications that the plans for the waterfront attraction were mired.

"As for the idea of a destination at the top of Middle River, no one has heard from the county on that for a long time," Polek said Thursday.

A Lockheed spokesman, Thomas Greer, declined to release details of the development plan. According to several people familiar with the company's initial development concept, several sections of its 155-acre campus would be developed near the terminus of an extension of Maryland Route 43 that could be completed next year, the airport and a cove that leads into Middle River and the bay.


In the mid-1990s, Dark Head Cove was part of then-County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's blueprint to overhaul a decaying swath of a region that lost tens of thousands of well-paying blue-collar jobs, saw major industries downsize or close and saw pockets of low-income housing turn into crime-troubled neighborhoods.

But opposition from Wilson Point residents killed the original Dark Head Cove idea, and Lockheed Martin was not inclined to let go of its prime real estate. Officials came up with the idea of a waterfront destination at the top of Middle River as part of the area's facelift.

County officials spun a vision of living in new housing developments such as WaterView, which replaced a dilapidated apartment complex, and crossing Eastern Boulevard to enjoy a crab cake, a beer and a riverfront stroll.

One of the people caught by that lure was Shawn Meyer, a computer engineer originally from Dundalk who moved with his wife and young son into WaterView in April.

"The marketing information that helped us decide to move here hyped the Middle River waterfront destination," he said.

But boaters complained of the long trip from the river's headwaters to the bay and the 6-foot depth of the waterway. And the owners of three marinas had different ideas for their properties.


While momentum for the Middle River site dropped, excitement has grown about the new possibility at Dark Head Cove.

David Gildea, a Baltimore attorney representing Lockheed, said interest in the project has been "fueled by the rebirth of Baltimore County's east side, commitment by the local government and a simple matter of timing."

David S. Iannucci, head of the county Office of Economic Development, said the county looks forward to working with the company, and in discussions has asked that no box stores be included and that jobs in the area be undisturbed.

Two companies, Middle River Aircraft Systems, a subsidiary of General Electric, and Vertical Launching Systems are on the 155 acres owned by Lockheed Martin. Neither the 1,300 jobs nor daily operations would be disturbed by development on the perimeter of the property, spokesman Greer said.

The Dark Head Cove waterfront, where graceful flying boats first splashed into the water nearly 70 years ago, has a colorful past.

From a large concrete ramp behind the Lockheed Martin buildings, the China Clipper seaplanes were launched in 1935 as were the MARS, the largest aircraft built by 1942. The China Clipper made the first passenger trans-Pacific flight, from Oakland, Calif., to the Philippine islands in 1936.


After World War II, as the Martin plant morphed into other aviation and technology entities, the waters of the Martin Lagoon became a favorite for water-skiers, such as Jack Dillon, then a Baltimore teen-ager.

As a planner for Baltimore County in the mid-1990s, he would propose the mini-Harborplace on Dark Head Cove.

"My hope is that [the project] be done in good quality, not on the cheap, and with excellent design," he said.

Jackie Nickel, a board member of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, was among a small group of leaders briefed by officials from Lockheed Martin last month.

"In their concept drawing, there was a hotel on Eastern Boulevard, restaurants on the water, clusters of condos with personal piers, retail shops and offices," she said. "The board agreed it would work because Dark Head Cove was the logical choice all along."

Jack Schultz, a resident of neighboring Wilson Point for four decades and president of the local community association, said he and his neighbors like what they hear about the latest plan.


Schultz and his board will be briefed by Lockheed Martin officials Feb. 3.

"The only thing we don't want are more marinas, and that apparently is not going to happen. Actually, it could be a pretty good thing for down here," he said. "It's about time."

For the record

A map that accompanied an article yesterday about a proposed waterfront development in eastern Baltimore County misidentified Dark Head Cove.