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PenMar director resigns

February 23, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

Staff Writer

Robert P. Sweeney, who has headed up efforts to convert Fort Ritchie into the Lakeside Corporation Center, announced Tuesday his resignation as executive director of the PenMar Development Corp.

James A. LaFleur, deputy executive director, will take Sweeney's place within the next 30 to 90 days. LaFleur, 44, was the installation and garrison commander of Fort Ritchie from 1995 through June 1997, when he began working for PenMar.

PenMar is attempting to bring companies and jobs to the 638-acre former Army base in the northeast corner of Washington County. The base closed Oct. 1, 1998. The Army still owns the land.

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The Washington County Commissioners unanimously accepted Sweeney's resignation, and LaFleur's promotion, following a closed session Tuesday. The commissioners thanked Sweeney for his work.

After the meeting, Sweeney, 59, said he had not decided what he was going to do next. He recently has been a key player in the push to bring a University System of Maryland campus to Washington County.

He had said from the beginning he would work for PenMar for three to five years and it has been 3 1/2 years, he said.

"Bob's efforts have left us with a solid future up there," said William J. Reuter, chairman of the PenMar board of directors.

Sweeney said he is proud of PenMar's work at the base so far. One major tenant, the International Masonry Institute, has been signed.

PenMar continues to meet with other companies interested in moving to Lakeside but none has committed, LaFleur said.

Reuter said one reason more progress isn't visible is that the conversion of former military bases usually takes about 10 years.

The Army gave PenMar a $2 million grant in November 1998. The money is intended to pay PenMar's operating and maintenance costs during the next 13 months.

Sweeney and LaFleur said PenMar is continuing to talk with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. about an analysis of the base's conversion.

Morgan Stanley completed an internal report on the center late last year but Sweeney and LaFleur said they have not been given a copy.

Just because the report has not been publicly released does not mean Morgan Stanley thinks there are any problems with the base conversation, LaFleur said. The continuing discussions between the two companies, including one Monday, demonstrates that Morgan Stanley thinks the idea has merit, he said.

Sweeney said Morgan Stanley has not suggested it has concerns with the idea of turning the base into a corporate center as opposed to other uses.

Morgan Stanley announced in April 1998 it had signed a six-month agreement with PenMar to examine the economic viability of the corporate park.

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