Costas Inn on North Point Boulevard in Dundalk smells like beer and crab cakes. There was a pretty good crowd on a recent Friday. But Donna Grover, a long-time regular, says it’s nothing like it was when Bethlehem Steel was running full strength at Sparrows Point, a few miles away. "This bar used to be packed like sardines and since Sparrows Point shut down, it staggers," Grover said.
Costas Triantafilos has owned the place since 1971. Back then, his wife would open the bar at 6 am to catch the overnight shift getting off at Bethlehem Steel. They would cash their checks and hang out for a few hours. That was until about 11 am, Triantafilos says, when his wife would begin shooing people out. “Ok you guys, ready to go, you don’t have no more to drink,” he recalled her telling them. “Lunch time. They would listen to her. That was funny. Classic for this place.”
As the steel mill began laying off its 30,000 workers on the way to shutting down, and Costas’s lost customers, Triantafilos’s son Pete says they had to reinvent their business to stay afloat. They added a restaurant and went full tilt into the catering business. Now comes word that Sparrows Point appears to be on its way back. Pete Triantafilos is thrilled. “That’s more people for lunch, more people for business meetings. More catering for us to do on their site,” he said. “It’s huge. It’s huge for us and this whole area.”
Sparrows Point, once an economic powerhouse for Eastern Baltimore County, has fallen on hard times. But it could once again be a place where people can find work. Fed Ex is the first company that we know for sure is seriously considering Sparrows Point. It may build a distribution warehouse there. That would mean several hundred jobs. The owners of The Point, Sparrows Point Terminal LLC, say the Port of Baltimore is interested in expanding there. And they’ve heard from other prospective tenants as well.
It’s 3,100 industrially zoned acres, so they say there is room for all kinds of businesses, from service and distribution to light and heavy manufacturing. And that will mean a lot more traffic around Dundalk. Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents the area, says the state and county will need to step up.
“The infrastructure is going to need to be there,” Crandell says. “Solutions will have to be found to keep trucks from coming into our neighborhoods.” Also, Baltimore County wants to develop a training program in conjunction with the county schools and the community college. It would train people for the warehouse, distribution, port and construction jobs likely coming to The Point.
At the same time, the county is considering expanding the nearby Northpoint Enterprise Zone to include Sparrows Point. That would give tax credits to companies to locate there. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz says the investment will be worth it. “People who work there, even if they don’t live in the county, they’re going to get gas, they’re going to get groceries,” Kamenetz says. “They’re going to stop at stores and that helps everyone in the entire east side of the county.”
Councilman Crandell says the east side has the two poorest zip codes in the county, 21221 and 21222. “Because Bethlehem Steel is gone. GM is gone. And General Electric is gone. Eastern Stainless Steel is gone,” Crandell said. “And the list goes on. So this is our opportunity to bring ourselves back.”
But for now, no one has inked a deal to locate at Sparrows Point. There is still an environmental cleanup to be done. The owners say give them five years. By then they hope a cleaned up Point will be back in business.