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Army to help with Fort Ritchie conversion

November 25, 1998|By SCOTT BUTKI

PenMar Development Corporation officials on Tuesday announced the U.S. Army had awarded a grant of almost $2 million to help with the conversion of Fort Ritchie to Lakeside Corporation Center.

A cooperative agreement between PenMar and the Army also includes options that would increase to $5.8 million the amount the corporation could receive over the next three years, said Robert P. Sweeney, executive director of PenMar Development Corporation.

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PenMar is a private/public company that is heading the effort to redevelop the base, which closed on Oct. 1. The goal is to attract businesses and create jobs, Sweeney said.

The agreement puts PenMar in charge of operations and maintenance at the former military base in northeast Washington County, starting in one month.

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"That gives us the ability to maintain the site the way we want it to be maintained," Sweeney said.

Some Army standards will have to be met, though, he said.

During the next month, PenMar will work with the current contractor, Meridian Management Corporation, from whom it will take over maintenance and operation responsibilities. The change will require PenMar to hire additional employees.

When choosing employees, PenMar will give preference to people who lost their jobs when Fort Ritchie closed, Sweeney said.

"We are happy to draw on the experience of the work force that existed at Fort Ritchie to staff our operations and maintenance team. This is a win/win for the Army, PenMar and the former employees," said William Reuter, chairman of the PenMar board.

Although Fort Ritchie has closed, the Army still owns the land.

The $1.98 million grant is intended to pay PenMar's operation and maintenance expenses during the next 13 months. Under the agreement the Army could then choose to give PenMar more money, but the amount would decrease incrementally over time, Sweeney said.

PenMar has been talking to the Army about the idea since June. It took time to finalize the agreement because the idea of letting the community assume responsibility for a former military base was seen as a new and different concept, he said.

Sweeney announced the agreement and grant Tuesday night. Earlier Tuesday, the Washington County Commissioners unanimously made two decisions intended to help with the transition.

At the recommendation of the Washington County Planning Commission, the County Commissioners adopted an ordinance that creates a new zoning classification, special economic development district.

The County Commissioners then passed an ordinance placing the 638-acre former military post under the new classification.

The zoning change was important, Sweeney said.

"We need that in place to keep things moving. The county and planning commission did a tremendous job in putting that together," Sweeney said.

Meanwhile, PenMar officials have been meetings with officials from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. and they will meet again on Dec. 10.

Morgan Stanley recently completed an internal report on the Lakeside center and would like to work further with PenMar, Sweeney said. He would not release a copy of the report.

Now PenMar needs to determine whether it is beneficial to continue working with the brokerage house, he said.

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