There are big doings in the works just north of Chestertown.
Well, technically the area is already in Chestertown – some 80 acres north of Scheeler Road and east of Route 213 were annexed by the Mayor and Council last year at the request of KRM Development, which owns the tract. The property, currently undeveloped, is destined to be the site of Dixon Square, a new warehouse complex for Dixon Valve and Coupling – and a lot more. The Chestertown Spy sat down with Kate Gray, president of KRM, and Bryan Matthews, KRM’s vice president, to talk about plans for what appears to be one of the most ambitious projects to come to Chestertown and Kent County in a long time.
Spy: Could you tell us how this project came about?
Kate Gray: We looked at an opportunity for Dixon, which is our parent company, to expand and to grow in the area. Their success is going well, and the opportunity to grow in Chestertown was an exciting venture for us. So as a real estate division of Dixon, a manufacturer, we were able to look at property in town and look to construct a business campus.
Bryan Matthews: I came on board last July, and at that point the team had already acquired 80-plus acres just north of town, where we remember the old airport used to be, and that had already been annexed, so the design process, the concept of not only expanding some Dixon facilities but also the opportunity and possibility of other properties there, was well under way at that point.
Kate: The initial piece of it is the warehouse or distribution center for Dixon Valve, currently located in the Chestertown Business Park, across from Dixon’s main building. It will be an expansion of that facility and enable them to have an upgraded warehouse and distribution center here in town – which will be the kickoff project within this business campus. We’ll actually be starting site work on that within the month of June. So it’s very exciting to be able to put a shovel in the ground here shortly. Soon after that we will be beginning the site work for the apartment complex. There will be two phases for the apartments. The first phase is three buildings, which is about 85 to 88 apartments. And ultimately there’s the potential for six buildings, so there could be double that, depending on the market absorption.
Bryan: This will be and in all likelihood will be a mixture of one-bedroom, two bedroom and three- bedroom apartments. And most importantly, I’ve been asked by members of our mature population, will there be elevators? And the answer is yes, we will.
The next phase would be a fitness center, and assuming everything else in the development happens, it’s logical to move the Kent Athletic Club up where the corporate headquarters and warehouse are. That’s also in the design phase that we’re working on at this point. Then ultimately what you see in this picture is the possibility of multiple commercial speculative space, which is what KRM does – build business parks and then attract new businesses and new jobs to Kent County. And that’s one of the exciting pieces of this project to all of us, the economic opportunity of impact to the local area, with new jobs and new businesses.
Kate: (showing site plan) On the west is Route 213 and on the south is Scheeler Road. The apartments will be off Scheeler Road. There will also be a road that goes in – it’s currently Haacke Drive, which will extend into the business campus. There will also be an entrance off 213, which will be the main entrance to the business campus. So the buildings can eventually be accessed from 213 or off of Scheeler Road by Haacke Drive. KRM Development is managing the full business campus development with our construction company KRM Construction, with some contractors that they’ll hire as well. Ultimately we will not be operating the apartments. The large blue building will be the Dixon Valve distribution center, the potential headquarters building; the purple is the potential future fitness center, which would be Kent Athletic Club moving to that location. The yellowish-gold are the speculative spaces that could be a variety of uses. Flex, commercial, warehouses, maybe even restaurants.
As you can see, this is an unprecedented economic development opportunity for the area – the town, the county and really the region. We haven’t seen development of this scale in Chestertown in quite some time, and it’s really important to us that the town and the school systems and the jobs that the town area are able to offer are quality – and it all builds one healthy community. It’s growth opportunity and the hope that this business campus will be the live/work/play theory of development.
Bryan: Another example of how when you get involved in a large project like this, new and exciting opportunities kind of present themselves. Within the first phase of the warehouse, there’s the possibility of utilizing some of the space there as a career training center there, which would be a workforce development opportunity. Dixon already does a tremendous amount of training for their employees. And the thought is that we double down on it. Dixon’s already good at it for their employees — can we expand that to the greater community for other job training, not just Dixon? And we’re in conversation with some potential partners on that. We may really help provide an opportunity for training and retraining for new careers and jobs for people in the Upper Shore. If you have a world class training program right here, people might want to come in from anywhere, spend six weeks here, get the training, get the certification, then be job-ready in that particular field. The high-speed fiber coming to Kent County is the game changer for us as well. For a project like this, when we’re talking to businesses in other parts of the country, trying to attract them to come here, one of the keys certainly is having that high-speed fiber.
Kate: Putting all the pieces together, the fiber coupled with all the exciting things that are happening in the downtown area, the arts and entertainment and the marina, and this project, I think Chestertown’s really poised to grow and to benefit from it. We need to attract young people to the area – I know that’s said over and over again, in many different venues – but from our standpoint of KRM and Dixon, having young people to work at Dixon and the ability for them to live and work within the business campus is certainly attractive.
Bryan: That’s one of the reasons why the apartments are part of this project. Residential housing is not what KRM usually does – it’s not the business we’re in – but with the need for housing in this area, both to attract young people and for others to be able to stay in this area of the community, it’s why we included it in this project.
Spy: What encourages you to believe that this project will have a better chance than some of the past ones that didn’t turn out (Stepney, Clark Farm, etc.)?
Kate: We’ve had a lot of cooperation with the town and the county and the state also, and it’s encouraging that there can be growth in the area. We’re fortunate that Dixon is, if you will, the anchor tenant for the space. In terms of the apartments, we also have done feasibility studies and there is a shortfall of rental property in the area. So the feasibility studies have come back with glowing results that the market certainly can handle this type of multi-family housing. But from the business campus perspective, it certainly is Dixon being the anchor, and then the hope with the fiber, and the other economic development excitement that’s happening in the area – those things can make for a successful business campus – which we have done in other areas. The Chesapeake Bay Business Park in Stevensville has certainly been the old adage – “you build it and they will come.” And it’s been extremely successful. We have about 80 businesses that occupy space in our buildings there, with about 1100 employees that make up those businesses.
Bryan: Paul Reed Smith is back in there. And the Chestertown Business Park is larger than most people realize – between 25 to 30 businesses there, and more than a couple of hundred jobs, people working in there. So as Kate says, there’s experience doing this. We’re not new at the business park side of things.
Spy: How are the hospital’s plans going to impact you?
Bryan: Especially when it comes to trying to recruit and attract new businesses that are considering relocating to Kent County, schools and medical care are two of the highest priorities, and the first questions we get, along with what kind of a trained work force do you have in your area. So having a quality hospital here is absolutely a key piece of the puzzle for us. That’s why we are very vested in that process and the communication that’s going on. We certainly are encouraged by what seems to be moving in this direction, but we’re paying close attention to it, because it makes a difference.
Spy: You said you’re breaking ground on warehouse in June; what’s the time frame for the apartments?
Kate: The apartments will follow shortly behind that; some of the site work will actually overlap, because of the road structures and water and sewer that need to be put in. So I believe that within the next week we will be awarding the contract and within the next month start with the site work and with them rolling into the apartments as well.
Sp;y: Do you have a completion date?
KG: We had that conversation yesterday – we’re not quite ready to pinpoint that yet. We’re working on the schedules, though.
Bryan: As you can imagine, there’s a lot of initial site work that has to go on before you see any buildings go up. There’s water, sewer, stormwater, roads – so there’s quite a lot of infrastructure work that will have to be done before we start seeing any buildings.
Kate: The first step is to mow it.
Spy: Will you be moving your offices there?
Kate: Right now, KRM will stay where we are in this building (the former Chestertown Bank on High Street). The office space is fully occupied, but the old bank lobby and former teller area still remains beautiful and untouched. We were able to get permitting to add some restrooms and we’ll be able to rent it out as a venue or event space. We’re probably a few months out from that since we’ve just begun renovations.