The first major tenant has moved into the Warfield Complex, a long-planned business park gradually arising from vacant state mental hospital buildings in Sykesville.
Nexion Health Inc., a nursing home management corporation, is the first national company to renovate one of the century-old brick buildings and relocate their headquarters there.
"There's a real reward to being the first guy on the block," said Francis B. Kirley, Nexion's president and chief executive officer. "We're like the model house in a new development."
Sykesville officials hope Nexion's arrival will lure more than a dozen other companies to Warfield. To expedite the process, the town is negotiating with a master developer, who might lease the entire property, renovate its remaining 10 buildings and then sublease them to tenants, Town Manager Matthew H. Candland said.
The Carroll County Dance Center technically became Warfield's first new tenant in August, when its studios relocated there.
After 18 months of construction, Nexion's $3 million 16,000-square-foot building opened the first week of this month.
If a couple of new tenants continue to move in each year, the Warfield Complex, formerly a part of Springfield Hospital Center, should expand according to plan along Route 32, Candland said. The 96-acre campus could comfortably accommodate about six new buildings on top of its remaining vacant ones in need of refurbishing, he said. For prospective tenants, Warfield offers affordable leases, proximity to Interstate 70 and a setting that resembles a college campus. For Sykesville and Carroll County, the park is a centrally located, potential engine of economic development in the predominantly residential area. Developing the complex will create more jobs, increase the county's low industrial tax base yet preserve the town's historic charm, local officials said.
"It's going to be one of our premier corporate centers," said Denise Beaver, the county's deputy director of economic development. "It's in a natural growth area for companies. The whole area is booming."
Since Warfield is on the National Register of Historic Places, renovating a building there makes economic sense for small, but growing companies like Nexion. Kirley said he and other Nexion executives formed KB Warfield LLC to develop the building, and through that process, tapped into $1.2 million in federal and state tax credits.
"There's this myth out there that restoring one of the old buildings is not economically feasible," Candland said. "But using the tax credits, you can end up with a better product at a better price."
After tax credits, Nexion spent a little more than $100 per square foot to renovate the space, while constructing a building could cost up to $150 per square foot, Candland added.
The Sykesville location is also convenient for many Nexion employees. About half of the nearly 50 workers at the new headquarters live in Carroll County, with the rest mostly in surrounding areas, such as Reisterstown and Owings Mills.
In the metropolitan area, Carroll has the second-highest percentage of residents who commute to work outside the county. About 55 percent of residents travel across county lines to their jobs - second only to Howard County, according to 2000 Census Bureau data.
Kevan Delaney, a paralegal at Nexion for two years, spent 13 years commuting to Rockville from her Mount Airy home.
"I went from having an hour and 15-minute commute to a 15- minute commute," Delaney said.
Receptionist Kristina Tuttle lives in Hampstead but used to travel to work on the congested Baltimore Beltway. Now, at Nexion, she doesn't have to.
To lure South Carroll residents weary of their daily commutes, Kirley has joked about putting up a sign on Route 32. It would urge them to instead work for Nexion, right there in Sykesville.
As more businesses move into Warfield, the Carroll County Dance Center's staff hopes to see its business grow. The studio offers afternoon yoga classes to employees from Northrop Grumman's offices in Sykesville.
"I'm hoping in five years this place has just exploded," Kirley said of Warfield and the adjacent state police training center. "The momentum is building. It's spectacular."