Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who died suddenly Thursday morning, leaves a legacy of luring massive development investments to the jurisdiction.
During Kamenetz’s nearly eight years leading Baltimore County, it attracted sizable investments for a variety of projects throughout the county.
Kamenetz’s vision for development was based on a desire to provide jobs and economic growth for residents, said Will Anderson, executive director of the Baltimore County Department of Economic and Workforce Development.
“If you look at his approach to development his mantra was always, ‘A story about putting people to work,’” Anderson said.
Kamenetz’s success luring development, however, did generate criticism from some activists, particularly from Towson residents, that his administration was too friendly with developers.
The county sold land in Towson to developer Caves Valley Partners, leading to a subsequent building proposal that included a Royal Farms convenience store and generated strong objections from community members. A deal to award more than $40 million in county aid to help Greenberg Gibbons and Caves Valley Partners complete work on the stalled Towson Row project also spurred accusations the administration was beholden to certain developers who were also campaign contributors.
Those criticisms aside, the county under Kamenetz’s leadership was remarkably successful in luring investment in development projects.
Among the notable developments that came to life during his administration include Tradepoint Atlantic’s ongoing overhaul of the defunct steelmaking site at Sparrows Point; St. John Properties’ massive live, work and play development, Greenleigh at Crossroads, near White Marsh; and David S. Brown Enterprises’ conversion of a west county metro stop into the area’s only true transit-oriented development, Metro Centre at Owings Mills.
Transforming the steelmaking site at Sparrows Point was a top priority for Kamenetz during his time as executive. When it was home to Bethlehem Steel in the middle of the last century it was a major part of the Baltimore region’s identity as a manufacturing center. But as steelmaking in the U.S. fell off, eventually ceasing all together at Sparrows Point after a long decline, it dealt a significant blow to the area’s economy.
Tradepoint Atlantic, a joint venture of Redwood Capital Investments and Hilco Real Estate Co., purchased the Sparrows Point property in September 2014. When plans to redevelop the site as a 3,100-acre multi-modal transportation hub — eventually producing $2.9 billion in regional economic impact and 17,000 direct and indirect jobs — were unveiled it was hailed as a major victory for the county. On Thursday, Tradepoint Atlantic executives remembered Kamenetz as an important partner in making the overhaul a reality.
“Baltimore County suffered a tremendous loss today, and we are taken aback and deeply saddened by this morning’s news. Kevin Kamenetz leaves behind a wonderful legacy as an advocate for Baltimore, and he served as a vital partner to us from day one of our project redeveloping Sparrows Point,” Aaron Tomarchio, an executive at Tradepoint Atlantic, said in a statement.
Kamenetz also was a strong advocate for bringing projects to Towson to transform the suburban county seat with more urban style, mixed-use development. He cited Bethesda as a model for his ambitions for the area during groundbreaking ceremonies. In recent years, as a result of projects such as Towson Square, Towson Row and Towson Circle, that vision has started to become a reality.
Anderson described Kamenetz as a “bulldog” in fighting for the redevelopment of the former Owings Mills mall site. He called the groundbreaking on that project last year — the $108-million Mill Station shopping center, anchored by Costco — “a proud moment” for the executive. Additionally, Kamenetz backed redeveloping the site of a former Solo Cup plant in Owings Mills into the Wegman’s-anchored Foundry Row retail development.
An often underappreciated effort by Kamenetz, Anderson said, was his work with retired Sen. Barbara Mikulski to keep the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn. Maintaining that agency’s presence in the area, while not a private development, benefits the regional economy.
Mikulski, in a telephone interview, described Kamenetz as a taskmaster willing to do the hard work to ensure the Social Security Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services remain in Baltimore County. If those entities were private companies, she said, they would be the nation’s two largest insurance providers.
She also remembered the late county executive as “a lot of fun,” always arriving to their regular meetings wearing one of her campaign pins telling her, “I’m with Barb.”
“Kevin was very goal-oriented, but he believed a goal could just be a good intention unless you have a concrete task to do,” said Mikulski, now a professor at Johns Hopkins.
Kamenetz, Anderson said, also worked to make sure the county retained corporate headquarters. Kamenetz had been working with McCormick & Company on keeping its headquarters in Hunt Valley for more than a year, Anderson said, before news broke the maker of Old Bay was searching for a new location. Additionally, the county executive made sure that Towson-based Stanley Black & Decker was able to grow in that area and expanded into Greenleigh at Crossroads.
“The role that he played as a leader was seeing (and filling) the gaps to make sure these projects came to life,” Anderson said.
Business and political leaders in the region sent condolences to Kamenetz’s friends and family, and expressed their respect for him as a partner in bringing economic growth to the region.
“He was a steadfast supporter of business and a great regional partner. The Greater Baltimore Committee enjoyed his support on a number of projects including the Red Line and his leadership on the redevelopment of Sparrows Point,” Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said in a statement. “He leaves behind an impressive record of accomplishments and an impactful legacy.”