More than five years ago, Baltimore County officials held a festive celebration to mark the opening of a $75.6 million, four-mile extension of Route 43 that connected White Marsh to Middle River. But not long after a parade and the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, construction of the $1 billion mixed-use Baltimore Crossroads @95 slowed down.
Construction workers and leasing and sales agents are once again busy at this 1,000-acre emerging community on the county's east side. And some observers are saying the movement is a result of the completion of the first wave of BRAC just up the road at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Residents and businesses are starting to land at the site. More than four dozen units in the newly-constructed Arbors at Baltimore Crossroads luxury apartment project have been leased, new business tenants are moving into the Crossroads Village Center, a 30-home Windlass Overlook single-family housing development is under construction, and a Royal Farms convenience store is hiring in anticipation of a March opening.
"This is the fastest lease-up in the Baltimore-Washington market," said Neil A. Greenberg, chief operating officer of Bethesda-based Somerset Construction Co. Somerset Construction is the developer of the $62 million Arbors project on Route 43, also known as White Marsh Boulevard.
Greenberg said 117 leases have been signed at the 365-unit development since it opened Nov. 1, and potential tenants stop by for tours all the time. Construction of the complex is ongoing.
The amenities at the property - including a saltwater pool, fitness room, theater-style multimedia room, solar panels, and LEED-certified touches in each apartment designed to save residents up to 40 percent on their monthly utility bills - are intended to make the development feel "like a Ritz Carlton," Greenberg said.
Plans for additions include a Zen garden, game room, and a doggie spa and dog park - most of them perks once unheard of in working-class Middle River.
Carol Stevens, the property manager, said confidently, "It's the kind of place that, 10 years from now, will still be the nicest place to live."
Long watched for its development as a new anchor on the county's eastside, the Crossroads@95 development stretches from Route 40 to Route 150, also known as Eastern Boulevard, near Martin State Airport. The extension of Route 43, completed in 2006, was a vital link in making certain businesses there could have direct access to Interstate 95, two miles away.
At the time, then-Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith, Jr. said the expansion would allow job growth and shepherded a plan for the county to pay $15.3 million toward the road expansion, where the State Highway Administration paid $56.3 million. Until then, the Crossroads land had been held by the A.V. Williams Trust and was known for its wide stretches of woodland.
The development attracted leasing agent St. John Properties, which is offering the total planned five million square feet of office and retail space. Partners in addition to Somerset and the A.V. Williams Trust include First Industrial Realty Trust, the Chesapeake Real Estate Group, and the Bozzuto Group, said Gerard J. Wit, vice president at St. John.
Overall, the company has invested about $200 million in Crossroads, Wit said.
"We're starting to see some critical mass occur there," he said, adding that interest has been spurred by base re-alignment and closure additions at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"We just signed a 5,000-square-foot pasta-and-grill restaurant," Wit said. "With the additions of the residents there, it will make it more of a project."
Some of those residents are poised to move into Windlass Overlook, where Ryan Homes is building single-family brick houses that range in price from $389,990 for a 2,000-square-foot home to $448,990 for a 3,000-square-foot home. Five of 30 planned houses have been sold, a Ryan sales agent said last week.
The two business parks in the area opened in 2006 - Baltimore Crossroads@95 and Windlass Run Business Park - and have been slow to lease.
Wit blamed the recession for the slowdown in construction at Crossroads. Progress at the development has been slow for more than three years, although Alexander's Mobility and BG&E Home have located headquarters there, and United Cerebral Palsy of Central Maryland, the Danfoss Group, and Brink's Home Security moved in.
Much of the class A and B office, flex, and commercial space remains vacant, but Wit said that is about to change.
"It's a wonderful location, with easy access to Interstate 95," he said. "The area is the economic hope of Baltimore County. It is the largest single piece of property available for industrial and commercial development. There's nothing else in the county that compares to it, with large, ready-to-go pieces and tracts of land for development."
Dan Gundersen, Baltimore County's new director of economic development, said the area is in a solid position for growth.
"I see it as an extension of the White Marsh focus that began years ago," Gundersen said.