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'Success story' unfolds at doomed base

June 10, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

FORT RITCHIE - Local, state and federal officials hailed a new era at Fort Ritchie Monday when the U.S. Army leased five buildings to the local organization charged with redeveloping the base after it closes.

"This is a great success story. If there are going to be other rounds of base closings (in the United States), we are going to provide an example on how to do it right," said U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md.

Bartlett's comments came during a ceremony in which the Army signed leases with PenMar Development Corp., the private-public agency that is leading efforts to transform the fort into a business park for high-technology companies and corporate training centers.

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The roots of the newly formed corporation go back to October of 1995, when local business and civic leaders met to begin preparations for the future of the 638-acre base in the northeast corner of Washington County. The base is scheduled to be closed next year.

"In less than two years time we're back on the right track," said Robert Sweeney, executive director of the corporation, which was created through legislation passed this year by the Maryland General Assembly.

The leases will be in effect for five years and include about 30,000 square feet. Other terms, including the amount the corporation is paying the Army in rent, were not released.

Sweeney said that disclosing the corporation's rent payment would put it at a competitive disadvantage because prospective tenants would know in advance of negotiations how much PenMar is paying for the property.

PenMar officials had hoped to use the ceremony to celebrate subleasing three of the buildings to the International Masonry Institute, an organization that has been using the fort for training programs.

But Sweeney said "last-minute glitches," involving a piece of property the organization is attempting to purchase in Annapolis, have held up the signing, which he predicted would take place in the near future.

"Good things are never delayed for very long," said Joan Calambokidis, president of the International Masonry Institute.

She and others said plans to turn the fort into what is being called the Lakeside Corporate Center at PenMar has been a model for cooperation between various governments and private business.

"It was truly a team effort," said Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

Officials said they expect more lease-signing ceremonies as redevelopment efforts continue.

"This is really a good news story and one we want to enhance as time goes on," said Maj. Gen. Robert F. Foley, district commander for the Army.

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