Banquet hall firm looks into building near APG

The Baltimore Sun

In another sign of the impact that BRAC is having on Harford County, Martin's Inc., the Maryland catering company, is exploring the idea of building a banquet facility near Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Company founder Martin Resnick will meet Wednesday with representatives from the county and the Army, including Col. Jeffrey Wiseman, APG garrison commander, to discuss the possibility "in an exploratory but very serious way."

"We've been looking at Harford County as a potential site for quite a while," Resnick said. "At one time, it didn't seem to meet enough of our criteria. It does now - especially with the expansion of the Army."

The nationwide military base realignment and closure process known as BRAC is expected to bring about 10,000 jobs to APG and as many as 25,000 to the area.

Resnick said he is considering building a facility that could accommodate 800 to 1,200 guests

Harford County Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, who helped arrange Wednesday's meeting, said a Martin's facility would fill a need in the county, where the largest meeting halls - including the Richlin Ballroom in Edgewood - hold no more than about 300 people.

"Our facilities in the county are excellent and well-run," he said, "but many of our high schools have to leave the county just to hold their graduations. And the Army - which holds an awful lot of functions - often has to go elsewhere."

"We're certainly seeing a need for more medium-sized meeting areas," said James C. Richardson, the county's director of economic development. "We know that with BRAC, we'll see a very big ramp-up in meetings of 300 to 500 people, and some slightly larger. It's not uncommon for many of the agencies and organizations coming along with BRAC to host meetings of those sizes."

With more than $32 million in annual sales at its seven Maryland banquet sites, Martin's Inc., based in Woodlawn, is one of the top-grossing privately owned catering companies in the country.

The company investigated sites in Harford County three years ago, Resnick said, especially in areas close to Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. But when the construction of a hotel led to increased land values, Martin's looked elsewhere.

At this early stage, Martin's isn't limiting its interest to any particular site in the county, but Guthrie was hoping to stir interest in the Government and Technology Enterprise, the new 400-acre research and development complex near the Route 715 entrance to the proving ground.

Rockville-based Opus East, which is developing the GATE site in partnership with the Army, expects to open more than 2 million square feet of office, laboratory and research space there over the next five years, all for contractors working at the base.

An Opus spokesman said a convention facility would be in keeping with the company's plans.

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