June 11, 2001

Although Delaware Department of Transportation officials apparently rejected the idea out of hand, the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred will take another stab at getting DelDOT to scale back the amount of road-building it will do in the Blue Ball area.

Daniel Bockover, president of the influential umbrella community association, said that transportation secretary Nathan Hayward has agreed to attend the council's June 14 meeting to "explain the [Blue Ball] Project and respond to our concerns." The meeting in Brandywine High School, which is open to the general public, will begin at 7 p.m. with the state official scheduled to be at the top of the agenda.

Meanwhile, Delaforum has obtained data which indicates Delaware taxpayers could end up spending $149 million or more, directly and indirectly, as an outgrowth of the state's successful economic development bid three years ago to arrange for multinational Astra Zeneca to locate its North American headquarters in Brandywine Hundred.

That is almost two and a half times what the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago combined expect to put up to lure Boeing Co.'s headquarters to the Windy City. And the Illinois legislature reportedly is having second thoughts about approving the full amount of its share of that purse.

The Brandywine civic council's executive committee in April enacted a resolution calling upon DelDOT to reconsider its Blue Ball highway plans, substituting a conventional cloverleaf interchange for the partial interchange with which it intends to replace the Concord Pike-Foulk Road intersection. Doing that while retaining the present Concord Pike-Augustine Cut-off intersection would eliminate need for an extensive 'local traffic' road network paralleling Concord Pike on the west side and slicing through the proposed Blue Ball Park recreation area on the east side, the council argues.

As Delaforum reported after a 'press briefing' preceding a recent public informational meeting on the Blue Ball Project, Hayward and assistant chief engineer Carolann Wicks both said deciding to go with a partial interchange was a community consensus and that there was no point in reopening the issue at this stage. The interchange would serve not only the existing roads but also a 'spur' coming from Powder Mill Road just west of Astra Zeneca's property.

Bockover told Delaforum that the partial-interchange decision was "based on certain assumptions" and that changes which have occurred "make it time to revisit those assumptions." He declined, however, to be specific on what he and the civic council believe to have changed.

The notice of the coming meeting said it will include "new estimates from Astra Zeneca on how many employees they're (sic) expecting between now and 2007." Bockover declined to say whether that indicated that the council has information indicating a reduction in the company's employment projection.

Anthony Felicia, who previously was company's public spokesman on the project and is now director of research, told Delaforum that "nothing has changed in that regard." He said the company is looking to have between 6,000 and 6,200 people working at the site when the expansion is completed in 2007, adding that has been its projection all along. Some previously published reports said that number would be in addition to the present 3,500-member workforce, but Felicia said that was never what the company said.

Bockover said that the civic council "is not in a position to dispute what may have been said or may not have been said" earlier in the process. "What we're saying is that it is our belief that certain assumptions that were made before may have changed and we're not going to be more specific because that is not the issue," he said.

The issue, he added, is "whether or not we need all those roads they say they want to build."

Agreeing with that is state Senator Harris McDowell who, in a separate context, told Delaforum that DelDOT as long ago as 12 years ago had advanced plans to do extensive highway construction in the Blue Ball area. "They wanted to build a beltway, but that idea was shot down. Then along came Astra Zeneca and they said, 'Here's out chance. We can now get it done.'," he said.

The area employment situation apparently has changed in one significant respect. Du Pont Co. had said last year that it intended to add about 250 more Du Pont Pharmaceuticals Co. workers in the first phase of a 20-year expansion at its Experimental Station. Du Pont, however, has just reached an agreement to sell that subsidiary to Bristol-Myers Squibb. That deal apparently not only will wipe out any new positions but also cut back on the force working on drug research at the Experimental Station. When it announced the sale, Du Pont said in its press statement that the disproportionate amount of money required for drug research, compared to near-term profits, was the reason it wanted to shed that business.

Felicia also said that construction for the Astra Zeneca expansion is on schedule with the first buildings still expected to be occupied by the autumn of 2002. Steel work for one is rising and the foundation for another is in place. New Castle County planning director Charles Baker had said at a meeting of the Tyler McConnell Bridge advisory committee that he thought the timetable might have slipped somewhat in view of indications of a sluggish economy.

Bockover said no one from Astra Zeneca is on the agenda for participation in the civic council's meeting, but the company may have a representative present for the session.

If details about employment figures past and present are somewhat murky, the size of the commitment of public money is even more so. Apparently no single balance sheet exists -- at least not in the public domain.

The latest Blue Ball Project accounting showed $127.1 million worth of roads, stormwater management and park development. That was up from $80 million projected a year ago. Bockover said scaling back the combination of interchange and supporting roads would reduce some of the road-building cost. McDowell called the cost escalation "unacceptable but not unexpected."

The new figure does not include what will be involved if Delaware Transit Corp. plans to establish 'park-and-ride' bus service into Pennsylvania, where the employees the company plans to place in its expanded Delaware offices and laboratories live, materialize. That was put at $149,400 for initial capital costs and first-year subsidy.

Blue Ball spending would be on top of $16.9 million in land acquisition and an estimated $5 million fiscal impact of an annual state tax credit matching the federal research tax credit. The state credit was enacted as part of the Astra Zeneca arrangement although other 'qualified' companies could take advantage of it.

New Castle County has made some land-use concessions as part of the Astra Zeneca arrangement, but apparently has not committed any public money to it. Although the company will lease the land onto which it is expanding from the state for $1 a year, instead of 'buying' it for that token amount, the company apparently will have to pay county and Brandywine School District real estate taxes. State law provides that state property is exempt from taxes if used for a state purpose and a county source said that evidently does not describe what is happening in this situation.

While state economic development officials and others can correctly assert that the company will not receive anywhere near the full $149 million Delaforum calculates is the total state commitment, it cal also be argued that the Blue Ball Project and the road building would not have occurred -- or would not have occurred anywhere near as soon -- had the company not been convinced to expand at the Zeneca site in Delaware rather than the Astra site near Wayne, Pa.

Be that as it may, the $61 million package that convinced Boeing to choose Chicago over both Denver and Dallas as site for its headquarters, being moved from Seattle, consists of $41 million in state grants and tax breaks spread out over 15 years and city tax relief amounting to $20 million over 20 years. Legislative leaders in Springfield are calling for eliminating from the state package such things as paying some of the aerospace giant's moving expenses. By way of perspective, it should be noted that Boeing has promised to bring only about 500 jobs with it.

2001. All rights reserved.

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Read previous story: Civic group seeks Blue Ball redesign
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