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Economic downturn a gift for dance hall's polka fans

  • Story Highlights
  • Popular Bavarian dance hall opened in Maryland in 1933
  • Developers bought land, club closed its doors on New Year's 2007
  • With slow economy, developers aren't building on the land
  • Family member leases back enough land to reopen dance hall
  • Next Article in Living »
By Jeremy Moorhead
CNN
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JESSUP, Maryland (CNN) -- The beer is flowing, the polka band is playing, and dancers are twirling across the dance floor.

Polka music is popular at the Jessup, Maryland, dance hall, which opened in 1933.

Couples dance at Blob's Park, a dance hall that owes its revival, in part, to the economic downturn.

Blob's Park lives again.

The popular Bavarian beer hall and weekend nightspot had closed its doors in 2007, the victim of an unlikely foe: progress. Developers, eager to build on the 400 acres of prime real estate in the bustling Baltimore/Washington, D.C., corridor, had purchased the 400 acres upon which the dance hall sat.

It was the end of an era for the farmland first owned by Max Blob, a German immigrant, who, among other things, helped found America's first "Oktoberfest" 70 years ago.

Blob was the great-uncle of Max Eggrel, who grew up on the land in Jessup, Maryland.

Standing on that farmland recently, Eggrel recalled the old days.

"We would farm during the week and have a biergarten during the weekend," Eggrel says.

Those weekend events were held in a small, wood-framed building situated between rows of golden crops. The building would come to be known as Blob's Park, a restaurant, dance hall and German-style biergarten. It opened in 1933.

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Thousands of patrons came to know the dance hall, which saw most of its business on Friday and Saturday nights.

But time marched on, and developers came calling.

"My brother ran the park until New Year's Eve (of 2007), and the rest of my family members decided, with the pressure from developers, to sell the land," Eggrel says.

"Our land butts right up to Fort Meade and the NSA (National Security Agency) facility," Eggrel explains. Fort Meade is currently going through major renovation and upgrades on its facility. The fort is part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program implemented by the Department of Defense in 2005 that will see thousands of new jobs on base.

With all these jobs comes a need for housing, Eggrel says.

"There are people that are going to be working there, and they are going to have to live somewhere, and so this is one of the spots."

Private developers are expected to build townhomes, condominiums and retail storefronts on the rolling hills of farmland where Blob's Park stands.

But that's somewhere in the future. For now, the economic crisis gripping the country has played a role in the revival of Blob's Park.

With the economic slowdown, developers couldn't see spending all the money on building upon the land since there currently isn't a demand.

"The infrastructure is going to take time to develop. There is no water or sewer on the property right now," adds Eggrel, who still lives on the property.

Once the land was sold and Blob's Park shut down, Eggrel found himself gazing out his front yard at the facade of a dance hall and all the open space surrounding it.

"The building was sitting there, just inviting someone to jump in and bring it back," Eggrel says. That's exactly what he set out to do.

But it wouldn't be an easy task.

"To open it back up took a sizable financial risk," Eggrel says. "I just had the vision that it could succeed again and be bigger then it was before, and I was just willing to take that risk."

Eggrel took his idea to the developers and a few attorneys. The developers agreed to rent 40 acres of the land back to Eggrel, a small portion compared to the land he grew up on, but it gave Eggrel the right to reopen the doors to Blob's Park.

Eggrel spent five months renovating the hall, and in January 2009 he and his employees reopened the doors to the public. Video Watch the action on the dance floor »

The hall currently has a three-year lease, but Eggrel speculates the dancing could go on for as many as 10 years -- or so he hopes.

Eggrel says his customers share a deep affection for his place. For $8, they can listen to or dance to live musicians who play for five hours every Friday and Saturday night.

The customers who keep coming back to the hall week after week have as much fondness for the hall as the owner himself.

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"Every week someone else comes up to me and thanks me for opening it back up," Eggrel says.

As for the economy and Blob's Park, Eggrel has this to say: "I hope it takes a long time to rebound. The longer this place stays open, the happier I'll be. And so will hundreds of other people."

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