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WCED Director Badger explains arena, Riddle Farm

(Jan. 30, 2015) He’s juggling an excursion train between Berlin and Snow Hill, a proposed hockey arena, development at Riddle Farm, traveling for conferences to entice desirable businesses and numerous day-to-day responsibilities, and that’s just the stuff the public knows about.

He is known by county employees to play things close to the chest until projects become ripe and then Worcester County Economic Development Director Bill Badger, known on both sides of the bridge as one of the architects of the Arundel Mills and Park Place projects, harvests them.

“I wanted to finish my career here on the Eastern Shore where my father has roots, and I wanted to finish it doing economic development,” he said.

Which doesn’t mean everything he touches is a bonanza. The stagnating Riddle Farm development has hit a snag because of overpriced Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDUs).

“The commissioners chose a path in funding the infrastructure to create a public/private partnership and collect money from the sale of EDUs,” Badger said.

The county contracted Goody Taylor to build water and wastewater treatment plants and provide 247 EDUs of capacity. An EDU is a measurement used to quantify water/wastewater treatment capacity. The facility would eventually be turned over to the county, and Goody Taylor would recoup their expenses through the sale of the EDUs.

“This resulted in the EDUs being expensive relative to the market,” Badger said, at a price in excess of $23,000 apiece. To a big box retailer, this might be a drop in the bucket, but other types of water-intensive businesses such as restaurants, this cost was prohibitive.

The county contracted with MuniCap, a public finance consulting firm, to draw up a plan to subsidize the up-front EDU costs and encourage development of the area. Its report, called Phase I, came back with three options: 1. Do nothing and let the situation sort itself out. 2. Implement Tax Increment Financing, where anticipated future gains would be used to subsidize current development. 3. Create a special tax arrangement for a designated area.

“I’m not really sure if we’ll get to a TIF or something similar. They are best used not for speculation but in an area we know there is going to be growth,” Badger said.

Riddle farm qualifies, as it has been designated as a planned growth area in Worcester County. Badger said he’d had experience with three previous TIF arrangements in Anne Arundel County.

“It’s something we as a government want to direct to happen,” Badger explained.

The county recently contracted MuniCap to evaluate its proposed options, called phase II, and come back with recommendations.

“The financing is putting the cart before the horse. Everyone is waiting for the infrastructure to be in place. Right now there’s a Band-Aid infrastructure we’re working with. We are really close to having the regulatory approvals done,” he said.

Badger estimates the construction will begin in the second quarter of 2015 and he said he hopes it is completed by the third quarter.

“I’d hoped we’d be at this point this time last year,” Badger admitted.

The surprise announcement of a Worcester County stadium caught more than one person off guard during the Jan. 20 county commissioners meeting, but Badger had apparently been talking with the interested parties for quite some time.

Right now, Badger said he had just completed the letter to be sent to the Maryland Stadium Authority asking it to conduct its own study of the proposal. The MSA is sensitive to funding competing entities, especially ones they have invested in, Badger said, referring to the Roland E. Powell Convention Center and the newly opened Performing Arts Center in Ocean City.

The new part of the proposal, referred to but not discussed during the open session of the commissioners’ meeting, is the possible inclusion of an outdoor stadium complex adjoining the indoor multi-use facility.

“There’d be more opportunity to have facilities like ball fields and other outdoor sports. There is a constant demand for the existing fields,” Badger said.

Badger mentioned hosting events like the Dew Tour at the outdoor facility, but this interview was conducted before Ocean City’s announcement that the tour would not be returning to the East Coast this year.

Access is going to be a sticky issue, Badger admitted. The facility proposal requires it to be near a highway, which means one of three options in Worcester County: Routes 50, 113 or even 13. Traffic frequently clogs Route 50 near Ocean City during the warmer months, and the council is sensitive to overburdening other roads such as Route 589.

“We know where the bad traffic areas are, and we don’t want to make a challenging situation worse. It’s important that we look in the greater OC area,” he said.

Despite that, Badger said, though he was short on details, several landowners have approached him looking to donate the land to build the arena.

“We’re at the very beginning of the beginning. There are a lot of questions needing answers, and we are pursing those answers,” he said.

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