Maryland Renaissance Festival weighing options in possible move from Crownsville

Organizers of the Maryland Renaissance Festival have said for years they might eventually move from the event's current home in Crownsville, but that possibility has grown since the festival's president said this month he has another property under consideration.

Jules Smith, president of the company that runs the popular festival, wouldn't share details but has said the site is on a major highway with more fields and woods than the current location.

Smith said he's been considering a move for at least seven years, dating to when his lease on the current site was close to expiring. Though he now has a long-term lease, he said development pressures mean large vacant properties are becoming harder and harder to find.

"We like being accessible to people. We like being not too far away, and we like being between the major markets," Smith said last week. "So before the opportunity evaporates, we wanted to consider our options."

The festival has operated in Crownsville since 1985 and attracts 300,000 visitors each fall to celebrate life in a small English village under the reign of Henry VIII — complete with costumes, jousting, plays, handmade crafts and smoked turkey legs.

But the festival has grown to its limit on the 130-acre Crownsville property, and there are frequent backups onto Interstate 97 on festival weekends. Smith said the festival's growth has combined with residential growth in the area to make for a less than ideal situation.

Smith's announcement on Facebook this month that he had an eye on a possible new property garnered more than 250 comments, many of them encouraging him to look at specific locations, with some urging him not to move too far from Crownsville.

Michael Booth, a Florida man who owns a farm in Lothian, said he's talked with festival organizers about using his 225-acre property on Upper Pindell Road.

"They approached and wanted to buy, and I didn't want to sell and they went away," Booth said. "Then we talked about a lease." Booth said nothing is set: "Just like any project, you never know where you are until you've gotten approvals."

Smith declined to comment on the possibility of the Lothian property. He said he has investigated moving to the former Crownsville Hospital Center campus about two miles away but thinks the state is more interested in bringing a human services operation there than a commercial business. The psychiatric hospital was shut in 2004.

The festival brings millions in tax revenues to Anne Arundel County. Over the past 10 years, the county has collected about $15.8 million in sales, vendor, property and amusement taxes from the festival, according to Rosa Cruz, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.

Cruz said economic development officials are working to keep the festival in Anne Arundel.

As he evaluates new properties, Smith said, planning is underway for the 2014 Maryland Renaissance Festival, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 23.

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