Sollers group unveils proposal for Government Center site
Wednesday, 24 April 2013 11:26

The Sollers Investors LLC plan would bring retail to the Government Center site and move the recreation center and athletic fields to the Seagram’s property.file photo

by Ben Boehl

Sollers Investors LLC have proposed a plan that would bring retail to the Merritt Boulevard site and move recreation programs and athletic fields to the former Seagram’s distillery site on Sollers Point Road.
    The developers spoke to The Dundalk Eagle last week about the proposal they made on the North Point Government Center site.
    Sollers was one of two bidders for the county property, along with Vanguard Commercial Development.
    As some have speculated, John Vontran, owner of the former Seagram’s property on Sollers Point Road, is associated with the Sollers group that also includes brothers Jeff and Mark Powers.
    Last spring, Vontran spoke of a proposal to build a new police station, government offices and recreation center along with senior housing units on the the former Seagram’s property; in return, he proposed to take possession of the Government Center site.
    Vontran said it was not an “official proposal” but an “idea” for his development team.
    The current Sollers  Investors LLC plan is similar to the plan that circulated last spring.
    First, all of the Baltimore County recreation programs currently located at the Government Center would be moved to the property of the former Seagram’s location, which Vontran owns, and the Government Center site would become home to a retail center.
    “The area has been unserved for quite a while. It’s been unserved for many years. We think we have a good idea for the community,” Jeff said.
    Vontran is in the process of demolishing all the buildings on the Seagram’s property and said a new 21,000-square-foot recreation center, which is required by Baltimore County’s Request for Proposal (RFP), would be built on the site if his plan is accepted.
    This building would have a production area for the Sky is the Limit theatre and the Chorus of the Chesapeake. A new indoor soccer facility would be built, and Vontran added that the Dundalk Hawks wrestling program would have an auditorium that could provide a venue for wrestling meets.
    “With ballfields on Seagram’s, it puts synergy into the community with new high schools and CCBC,” Vontran said.
    On the outside grounds, the Sollers Investors proposal calls for the building of two 150-by-300-foot multipurpose fields. The four baseball/softball diamonds would be used in the spring and summer and could be converted into lacrosse and football fields in the fall.    
    Vontran said there will also be an indoor/outdoor concession building where Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council can raise funds.
    “It creates funding for them that is not there now. It gives them an opportunity to raise dollars,” Vontran said.
    “We are creating something different and better than what they have now.”
    Vontran also pointed out these new fields would get kids away from the power lines that loom over the Government Center fields and said that the new site will have parking for over 100 vehicles. He estimated there are under 40 parking spots at the Government Center location for the recreation programs on the weekend.
    “We are open. It’s a very transparent project,” Mark Powers added.
    Vontran had plans to build senior housing on the Seagram’s property, but he said those plans will be put on hold for now as Sollers waits and sees if its proposal is approved by the county.
    Even if the ball fields and recreation center are constructed on the Seagram’s site, Vontran said the other half of the lot will still be available.
    Vontran did comment that he has no plans to build a new police station on the site because the county did not require that as part of the RFP and Baltimore County said the North Point Precinct 12 would move to the soon-to-be-closed Eastwood Elementary Center.
    The plan would than call for the Sollers group to take over the Government Center site, demolish the building and turn the vacant lot and fields into a space for retail, which Sollers hopes would include a “big box” store and a prestigious national chain restaurant.
    “We want to take the rec facilities to make the synergy so much better in Dundalk. This will allow us to utilize Merritt and Wise for retail, which is a much better use,” Jeff Powers said.
    Critics claim that Dundalk has too many shopping centers, with storefronts already vacant along Merritt Boulevard and throughout the Dundalk region. They will also point out that Dundalk’s median household income was next to the bottom of all the county’s Census Designated Places and that would likely keep a “big box” store out of the area.
    Mark admitted that some retailers do look at a community’s median household income but there are other factors such as size and location of the parcel. He thinks both are perfect at the Government Center site.
    “There has never been that big physical land available for a retailer with a ‘big box’ store until now,” Mark Powers said of the Government Center property. “This now provides an opportunity for them to come to Dundalk.”
    Some local groups vocally opposed the Government Center sale and they want the county to keep the current building.
    When asked if the group was concerned about buying a property that could be controversial, Jeff Powers said it is all part of being a developer.
    “We are developers and we are used to having some type of opposition, but it is in the best interest of the community,” he said.
    “I would love to talk to Dundalk United and hear their proposal,” Vontran added.
    One of the great traditions of the Dundalk community is the Independence Day fireworks, traditionally launched at the Government Center site. The proposed sale of the property has some worried about the fireworks’ future, but Vontran said the fireworks will stay at the site if his group takes over the project.
    Vontran recalled that he used to watch the fireworks from a relative’s house on Searles Road when he was young and  said he wants to continue the tradition of the fireworks.
    He said his plan will allow that, since the fireworks are actually launched at the Grange Elementary School fields and that property is not being affected.
    “Why do the fireworks have to leave? There is no reason why they can’t stay,” Vontran added.
    Sollers said there are four shareholders in this project:  the Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council, the community, the county and the Sollers Investors team.
    “It’s a win-win for everybody. The county gets sufficient funding and the community gets a new rec facilities, and it costs zero dollars to the taxpayers,” Jeff Powers said.