An IMAX theater in Lexington Park?

STEMCorp has big plans for Navy land

Friday, April 29, 2011

St. Mary's County, there is a new nonprofit that wants to bring an IMAX theater to Lexington Park.

It took something big to turn people's attention away from that idea last week when the proposal was outlined.

That big something was the frequent and forceful mention of the word "BRAC," as in "Base Realignment and Closure."

With all the breathless rumors of a new round of base shuffling coming in 2015, the contractors, developers and government officials who gathered April 18 at the Bay District Social Hall in Lexington Park barely discussed the proposal their hosts brought them together to hear.

The host was STEMCorp, a new nonprofit organization spun off from the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum and headed by Keith Fairfax, a longtime member and officer of both the museum and the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance, a local contractor lobbying group.

Although the focus of last week's meeting drifted from STEMCorp's presentation, Fairfax said the group is still committed to the idea of bringing a conference center, office space and, yes, maybe even a large-format IMAX theater to Navy land currently surrounding the rear side of the museum and its flight line of display aircraft.

"It hasn't changed," Fairfax said Wednesday.

The plan being proposed by STEMCorp would be used to develop Lot 6 and Lot 7 of an Enhanced Use Lease program plan the Navy proposed last year. The Navy's plans to lease 42 acres on seven Pax River sites; however, the plan is on hold, awaiting congressional approval.

"This is probably the most valuable real estate in the tri-county area," said George Hurlbert, STEMCorp's treasurer, during last week's presentation. "The development and investment community need to be brought into this."

Hurlbert outlined a loose proposal that would bring additional amenities such as the theater and the conference center to the museum while including office space for Navy. He estimated that the Navy has 2,156 employees housed in relocatable buildings on base and a further 674 employees located in buildings outside the base fence.

The Navy is not likely to receive any new construction funds to house workers in better conditions, so it is using the EUL process to try to entice private investors to construct buildings for it to use.

Hurlbert proposed that STEMCorp's project could provide new, Class A space for 1,250 workers, though he cautioned this week that the number would likely change.

"We'd need some help from the commissioners and the state legislators to do some of this," Fairfax said this week.

He said the county's government and private sector need to do something to help the Navy with its space problem, or BRAC 2015 may not go well for Pax River. "If the Navy has a problem, then the community has a problem. … We need to help them as much as we can."