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New life for fort gets lift

May 23, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Efforts to redevelop Fort Ritchie when the U.S. Army base in Washington County closes next year received a boost Thursday with a new law that many see as critical to the area's economic development.

The legislation signed by Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening establishes the public-private PenMar Development Corp., which will be responsible for turning the 638-acre property into a combination corporate technology park and business training center after the base closes next year.

"We're very happy we were able to get the bill passed. We had a little bit of a bumpy road, but in the final analysis we got what we wanted," said William J. Reuter, chairman of the Local Redevelopment Authority that is planning the Fort Ritchie transition.

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The law takes effect immediately.

Supporters of the law say it will help in a redevelopment effort that could lead to 2,000 jobs over the next 10 years.

"If we do that correctly, we are going to have good wages for a lot of people in Washington County," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.

Passage of the bill was a relief to many local politicians and business leaders, who had faced strong opposition from some General Assembly leaders determined to thwart the legislation because it originally gave the corporation broader powers, including the ability to buy and sell bonds.

But a compromise was reached on the day before the legislature's annual 90-day session ended in April that permitted the formation of the corporation but handed its financing powers over to the existing Maryland Development Corp. (MEDCO), a Baltimore-based agency that markets various vacant industrial complexes in the state.

Robert Sweeney, executive director of the Local Redevelopment Authority, said the law essentially does everything the county had originally sought.

"We're in great shape," he said.

Local officials said getting the corporation established now is crucial as the fort will be competing with other soon-to-be-closed bases for a limited amount of federal redevelopment funds.

"We're going to have a lot of momentum from Day 1," Reuter said.

County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said the new corporation will be an example of how private business leaders can take charge of attracting jobs, business and economic growth to the county.

"I think it will be the model for economic development for the future of Washington County," Bowers said.

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