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Developer has big plans for business park

April 11, 1999

Ken LoweBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A newly expanded U.S. Coast Guard computer center and several Internal Revenue Service facilities, including a massive $86 million office complex, are just part of the plans for the Liberty Business Park near Baker Heights.

Developer Ken Lowe envisions 200 apartments on the west end of the 338-acre tract and retail shopping, possibly including a mall along the north side beside W.Va. 9. The rest of the property will be sprinkled with residential and professional development, creating a self-contained community for the federal government employees coming to work there.

One could call Lowe's success in transforming the former farm property visionary.

But Lowe said he was "damn near nuts."

Seventeen years ago, when Lowe started thinking about developing the property into a first-rate business park, Berkeley County wasn't close to experiencing the growth it is seeing today.

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But Lowe said he looked at the property carefully and saw something.

Trying to pinpoint where the Eastern Panhandle would grow in coming years, Lowe drew a line from Martinsburg to Shepherdstown to Charles Town, which formed a triangle.

"When I looked at the triangle, I saw Baker Heights in the middle," the Shepherdstown resident said.

With other large employers nearby, including the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Lowe figured the area would be a hotbed for development.

"I said it's got to be good. It all clicked."

The land was owned by James Murdoch of Washington, D.C., and William Allaun of Virginia, and they brought Lowe on board to develop the property.

Lowe borrowed $2.2 million to extend sewer service throughout the property and make other improvements.

Today, he is reaping the benefits.

The Internal Revenue Service operates two data centers in the park, located just east of the VA, and the agency is putting the finishing touches on its new $86 million computing center that will replace four operations it has in the Martinsburg area.

The 396,000-square-foot building has a curved design and dominates the scenery in the park.

Last week, the Coast Guard unveiled a $9 million addition to its computing center in the park, more than double the size of the original facility it opened in 1991. Unlike the IRS facility, which is owned by the federal government, the Coast Guard leases its 110,542-square-foot site from Lowe for about $22 per square foot.

Lowe said he expects the rapid development in the park to continue.

Although he is planning residential development for the rest of the property, it could also be used for commercial development, Lowe said. "It all depends on supply and demand. I got the supply."

The attractiveness of the property is further illustrated by the planned new route for a four-lane W.Va. 9. The route being suggested by the state Division of Highways will swing right past the Coast Guard and IRS facilities, and hug the hillside on the back of the property, where commercial and residential development is planned.

Lowe said he had no idea the new four-lane highway would take the path that it did. But he knew it had to be in the general area because the other possible routes being considered by the highway department would have disturbed too many houses and businesses to the north of the park.

"The whole thing is common sense. That's what development is all about," Lowe said.

The park is just part of Lowe's development efforts. He built a nearby Comfort Suites hotel with Bavarian Inn owner Erwin Asam and Hagerstown contractor Mike Callas, and Lowe recently opened a federal training center in Shepherdstown that also operates as a Clarion hotel.

"This is all a dream come true for me," Lowe said.

"To me, Ken Lowe is one of the premier developers in this area," said Bob Crawford, executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority.

Berkeley County Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart agreed with Lowe that the Baker Heights area will continue to see rapid growth. "It's a good location," Burkhart said.

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