In the heart of Edgewood, within a few miles of the U.S. 40 corridor and near the site of a planned $350 million federal training center, Harford County hopes to redevelop a 28-acre parcel into upscale homes, offices and small businesses.
The county's request for proposals has drawn interest from about 25 developers for the Washington Court project, and the deadline for bids is more than two months away.
"A few years ago, we put this project out to bid and didn't get a single bidder," said Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a Democrat who represents the area. "Now we have many."
Guthrie tied the flurry of interest to the looming growth associated with the national military base realignment, which is expected to bring thousands of jobs to Harford within the next few years. And more particularly, he attributed the increase in prospects to the Center for Security Training and Technology, a simulated city equipped to train as many as 50,000 people each year from government and private sectors in anti-terrorism technology.
The center, expected to be the largest high-tech counterterrorism facility of its kind in the country, is coming to Edgewood. Its developers have proposed several million square feet of classroom, training, lodging and office space in about 35 buildings on 1,300 acres of the 72,000-acre Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"I think the center means we will be seeing a lot of upscale developments," Guthrie said. "We have a solid investment in our hands with Washington Court, and we are holding the tail on it to make sure it's developed properly."
Standing before a "Commitment to Community Unity" banner last month, County Executive David R. Craig praised the project "as the county's first major step in Edgewood."
"We don't have to take farmland anymore," Craig said. "We can redevelop brown spaces. We challenge developers to come up with a good plan for mixed use that will benefit this community."
Craig said he hopes to return to the site within a few months with wrecking crews who will demolish 51 dilapidated brick buildings. The former officers quarters were vacated more than 20 years ago and never refurbished. The only recent user has been the sheriff's department, which frequently trains at the site.
"Given the condition of the buildings, we are looking for a demolition component in the bids," Craig said.
The county acquired the property, which has public water and sewer and is just off Edgewood Road near Edgewood Elementary School, for $982,000 about six years ago from the federal government.
"It is fortunate that the county took the initiative to purchase the property," said community activist Sam Gibson, a 30-year resident of Edgewood. "We will get something that works for everybody."
Neighbors are excited about the prospect and open to any number of possibilities, especially since the county has control, Gibson said.
"We would like to see a mix of offices and mid- to high-income housing," Gibson said. "This could have become an industrial park with an influx of low-income housing that could be the death knell for this community. Edgewood is a good community. It just needs to stabilize a bit."
Kevin R. Wiley, branch manager of the Mercantile County Bank in Riverside and a member of the Route 40 Business Association, was among the two dozen people who took a brief bus tour of the property with county officials.
"We want to get a Main Street feel to Edgewood Road and bring more businesses to this side of Route 40," Wiley said.
The state is funding a traffic and infrastructure study for the Edgewood Road area, planning to rebuild the MARC train station and spending $8.9 million to enhance the U.S. 40 corridor through Edgewood, home to about 23,000, said Sen. Nancy Jacobs.
"We all want to see Edgewood blossom into what we know it can be and then, economic development will come," Jacobs said. "Image can kill or make a community, and we have to raise Edgewood's image. This is all about making Edgewood a better place to live and work."
Numerous developers have expressed interest in the project, according to the county's Web site.
"We are expecting a lot of interest and hearing a lot from the development community," said Joseph S. Patti, Harford's deputy director of procurement.
The county has scheduled a pre-proposal meeting Tuesday to give prospective bidders an opportunity to ask questions and tour the site.
"These dilapidated buildings are a golden opportunity for somebody," Craig said. "Our request for proposals will let developers show us what they can do to kick-start this project."
In what could become an intense competition for the job, few developers are willing to make public any of their plans for Washington Court.
"Most want to test the waters and see what this is all about," said Jim Wolf, spokesman for G. W. Stephens, an engineering company in Belcamp that worked on the Water's Edge Corporate Campus in Riverside. "With all the action coming to Aberdeen Proving Ground, we want to try to meet the players on this project."