Government Center bids near end
Wednesday, 03 April 2013 13:45

Programs housed at the North Point Government Center anxiously wait for news of the building’s future. file photo

County says full process could take months

by Ben Boehl

As Dundalk residents anxiously await word on the future of the North Point Government Center, the county’s deadline for bids on the property is quickly approaching.
    The official bidding period ends on Friday, April 5, but Ellen Kobler, deputy director of the Baltimore County Office of Communications, said it could be some time before a new owner, if any, is announced.
    “We won’t know until April 5 how many have submitted proposals. Reviewing the submitted proposals will be just the first step of a several-month evaluation process,” Kobler wrote in a statement to The Eagle last week.
    The process started in December when County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced that  three county sites would be placed on the open market.
    The North Point Government Center, along with the Towson Fire Station and Public Works Facility and the Randallstown Police Substation, were slated to be sold, with proceeds from the sales covering the cost of updating other facilities — and hopefully still garnering a profit.
    The pending sale of the Government Center would move the North Point Police Precinct from its current home to what is now Eastwood Magnet Elementary School, located on Westham Way off Eastern Avenue.
    That plan set off another round of controversy when the Baltimore County Board of Education voted to close the Eastwood school and consolidate it with Norwood Elementary and Holabird Middle schools as one school, despite a plea from Eastwood parents for their school to remain open.
   
Where would tenants go?

    With the closure of Eastwood at the end of the school year, the police precinct now has a place to go, but other Government Center tenants continue to face uncertainty, which has generated further opposition to the sale plan.
    Some programs currently housed at the Government Center, including the Sky is the Limit Community Theatre and the Chorus of the Chesapeake, both of which need large facilities for rehearsals and performances, are likely to face difficulty in finding new homes on their own.
    There was also concern that recreation programs would lose the use of the athletic fields at the site.
    County officials, however, stress that the Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Government Center site includes a requirement that the purchaser of the land must keep the athletic fields intact and under the operation of Baltimore County’s Department of Recreation and Parks or else provide comparable field space in the community that would also be under the operation of the county Recreation and Parks department.
    The RFP also states that if the building is purchased, the recreation center must be replaced by the buyer. That recreation center must be at least  21,000 square feet, so it is big enough for the theater and all the programs currently in the building.
    “The  center [would be] the size of three middle-school gymnasiums,” Kobler told The Eagle in January. 
    One part of the RFP that could be an obstacle to some potential buyers is the requirement of maintaining the police communication tower at the site.
    John Ayres, president of the New Norwood Holabird Community Association believes the Government Center will not sell because of that requirement.
    “I don’t think the RFP is going to fly. I don’t think any developer is going to want to work around those parameters,” Ayres said, adding that Baltimore County is not the only agency to use that radio tower and the Federal Communications Commission would have to approve any move of the tower. Ayres believes such approval is unlikely.


NHCA Proposal

    Ayres and the NHCA have offered an alternative plan for the site if a sale is unsuccessful.
    The NHCA plan is for the county to tear down the Government Center and build a new state-of-the-art centralized educational facility for grades K through 8 and to close Norwood, Bear Creek and Grange elementary schools and Gen. John Stricker and Holabird middle schools.
    Ayres said with the population decline in Dundalk and with many of the current school facilities becoming outdated, it is likely that the county will close more schools in the next decade.
    “Baltimore County will eventually close down these [elementary and middle] schools. Let’s be proactive and present this plan to the county,” Ayres said back in February.
    Recently, the NHCA added a new proposal asking Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. to bury the triple overhead power lines that run across the Government Center property, starting at Moorgate Park in the Eastfield-Stanbrook community and running to the power station behind the McDonald’s on Wise Avenue.
    The NHCA school plan has been met with resistance in the community.
    Two of the biggest critics have been Dundalk United members Rich Foot and Debbie Staigerwald.
    “What types of studies did he conduct? Anything like this takes years to study,” Staigerwald said of the NHCA’s plan when it was announced in February.


Is Vontran in?

    One name seemingly always tied to any discussion of the Government Center  site is that of John Vontran, who is currently awaiting approvals to develop the former Seagram’s distillery site.
    Last spring, Vontran spoke of a proposal to build a new police station, government and recreation center and senior housing units on the former Seagram’s property; in return, he would take possession of the Government Center site.
    Vontran said it was not an “official proposal” but an “idea” for his development team.
    Now that the property is for sale, does Vontran have any interest?
    Vontran told The Eagle in February that he and his partners are looking at the county’s request for proposal (RFP) but that no decisions or bids have been made.