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Opinion

A new beginning for Sparrows Point [Commentary]

From the time I was a kid growing up in Baltimore County, I've always associated Sparrows Point and Bethlehem Steel with jobs.

For so many Baltimore County residents, these 3,000-plus acres represented a center of job opportunity. If your brother or grandfather or uncle didn't work there, then one of your neighbors' relatives surely did — and dozens of big and small businesses thrived off of the economic activity that spilled over from "The Point."

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Sadly, I have also witnessed the slow and steady decline of Sparrows Point, whose fortunes were dependent on decaying domestic competitiveness within the steel industry. Sparrows Point came to represent this decay and loss of jobs, culminating in the steel mill's closure in 2012.

When I was elected county executive, I made reinvigorating Sparrows Point a priority. We've had many successful economic development achievements across Baltimore County during the past four years, yet the land at Sparrows Point represents a third of the industrially zoned acreage in all of our county — too big an area for us to let sit without a vision for redevelopment.

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I saw it as an imperative for all of us to work together to find a way to take advantage of this unique, strategic location. We need to bring back jobs and economic opportunity that will benefit Baltimore County and our region for the next generation.

That's why I convened a group of key stakeholders as the Sparrows Point Partnership two years ago and asked them to take the lead in creating a "road map to the future." They laid out a powerful vision for the redevelopment of Sparrows Point that would focus on job creation and a 21st century economic model.

This week, the land was sold to a new, locally backed ownership group, Sparrows Point Terminal LLC, which has agreed on a cleanup plan for the property. I believe we finally have within our grasp a real opportunity for job redevelopment.

This week's announcement addresses the first step in any redevelopment of the property — tackling environmental issues left behind from over a century of steel-making. Sparrows Point Terminal has committed the dollars — $48 million up front — to execute and complete specific clean-up plans that will be overseen by state and federal regulators.

As remediation continues, our charge will be to attract a variety of job producing businesses from different sectors. My administration and Sparrows Point Terminal have already received inquiries from businesses that would like to relocate to the site due to its access to port facilities, interstate highways and key railroad lines. In addition, Sparrows Point Terminal has plans to make use of the extensive waterfront to add additional capacity for port operations. Interest has been building from several port terminal and rail operators in investing in Sparrows Point.

Bottom line: There is now an emerging vision, financial backing and a strong commitment to address the legacy of environmental issues and move ahead by attracting new business and jobs to this community.

I've had a chance to meet with representatives of Sparrows Point Terminal. It is backed by a local company, Redwood Capital Investments, with strong, local roots. Redwood and related companies have a large presence in our region, including some of our most noted and respected employers, such as our region's premier retirement community company, Erickson Living. I have confidence they are the right team to take charge of Sparrows Point and get the job done.

It's too early for anyone to know the specifics of what redevelopment will look like. But I believe that the vision developed last year by our team of stakeholders will serve as a strong starting point.

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We've also had initial conversations about the importance of recognizing the legacy of Sparrows Point and the people who worked there. I'm confident that the new owners will work closely with the community to find ways to tell the history of The Point — and preserve in some way the star that still sits atop the blast furnace.

All of us who care about Baltimore County understand what this site once meant for our community in terms of economic activity and job creation. And we have high expectations for what can be done.

I pledge that my Baltimore County economic development team will do everything we can to help make the redevelopment successful. This is a tremendous opportunity for our community. Working together, we can build a new legacy for The Point that rivals its storied past.

Kevin Kamenetz is the Baltimore County executive. His email is kkamenetz@baltimorecountymd.gov.

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