Fort Ritchie plan could create 2,200 jobs

February 25, 1997


Staff Writer

FORT RITCHIE - Consultants laid out a plan Monday for turning Fort Ritchie into a technology center and conference facility that eventually could create 2,200 jobs and would generate $12 million a year in property taxes for Washington County.

Sasaki Associates Inc. and Hamilton, Rabinovitz & Alschuler Inc. will present the plan for the Pen Mar Technology & Corporate Center to the public today at 6:30 p.m. at the Fort Ritchie Theater. The Army is scheduled to leave the base in 1998.

The plan, a hybrid that melds two earlier proposals, calls for razing about 480,000 square feet of building space, converting some existing structures and constructing new facilities over a 20-year period.


The plan's authors said they want to cater to high-technology firms such as biotechnology businesses, an education consortium and telecommunications and electronic publishing companies.

"We really see this as a campus-like environment," said Frederick L. Merrill Jr., an official with Sasaki Associates. "This should feel like a college campus."

Ellen Baer, an HR&A official, said the plan takes advantage of the area's natural beauty. With an existing golf course, two small lakes and proximity to major cities, she said it would be an ideal conference center location.

"You need to create an identity and an image to this site," she said.

In drafting the plan, the consultants also tried to address what they see as the area's major drawback: it's lack of a highly educated and trained work force.

Merrill and Baer said they hope part of the base can serve as an education facility for high-technology students. Merrill said this could take any number of forms, including a joint venture by several universities, government and private businesses.

While providing jobs, Baer said this course of action would have the added benefit of developing a qualified work force as the rest of the area grows.

Baer said her firm's research also has indicated that Washington County has a relatively high number of potential employees - educated people who do not work. She said some high-technology companies likely would import employees.

While waiting for high-tech development, the first phase of the base changes could begin with other kinds of companies, such as telemarketing companies and electronic publishing firms, the consultants said.

More than 20 years from now, if the redevelopment plan takes off, the consultants said the site could accommodate additional growth.

This could involve construction of additional residential units along the northwestern edge and center of the property. The golf course, now located in the middle of the site, could be moved to the southwestern tail of the property, they said.

Whatever shape the base ultimately takes, the consultants cautioned that the changes will not be made overnight and development will be piecemeal.

Baer said conversion of the base for civilian use would cost about $20 million. Her projections show a $12 million shortfall by the 20th year of the plan. To close that gap, the plan recommends seeking money from the federal and state governments, the Army and utility companies.

The Fort Ritchie Local Redevelopment Authority will vote on the recommendation in March. The Washington County Commissioners and the Army must approve the recommendations and an environmental impact statement must be prepared.

"I don't think there's going to be a problem" obtaining approval, said Robert Sweeney, executive director of the Local Redevelopment Authority. "We've talked about this every step of the way. There are no surprises."

Once approvals have been received, the Local Redevelopment Authority will negotiate with the Army over the value of the land. The consultants said they hope legislation to create the Pen Mar Development Corp. to run the property makes it through the General Assembly this session.

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