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Poor plans for Fort Ritchie

July 05, 2000

Poor plans for Fort Ritchie



Well, another day, another re-use plan for Fort Diminishing Expectations, formerly known as Fort Ritchie.

Started out, we were going to fight to keep the Army base open against the recommendations of the federal base closure committee.

Didn't work. So then we were going to turn Fort Ritchie into a high-tech Mecca, bristling with fiber optics and broadband capability which would attract any number of dot.com and technology companies to the mountaintop site.

Didn't work. That meant going to Plan B, which was to make the remote base a corporate training retreat, where employees could come to plot corporate strategy and learn lessons in teamwork and brainstorming.

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Didn't work. Which sent us off in a new direction, that of a retirement/recreation facility, which would take advantage of the fort's open spaces, golf course and military housing.

Didn't work. But perhaps since this was an old government facility, a new government; perhaps government offices and telecommuters tied to their parent agencies in Washington by phone modem.

Didn't work. So then we brought in a Wall Street investment behemoth, which was supposed to analyze the property, pump in capital and tailor it to profitable businesses.

Didn't work. So now we're looking at a privately operated boot camp and - I love this idea more than I can say - a camp where poor folks can get out to meet successful people and ride around in battery-powered cars.

I guess it would be like inviting patrons of the local soup kitchen to a Chamber of Commerce mixer. Who knows, maybe it will work and young people will be inspired to succeed. And if it doesn't, it could still be the plot for a really good sitcom.

To quote directly from the article: "Low-income families would be bused to the former Fort Ritchie Army base, where they would meet people, ride on battery and air-powered vehicles and rides, and participate in other activities."

There's your storyline: The Kramdens meet the Jetsons.

Best as I can tell, this is sort of a socio-economic desegregation program. Rich and poor people get together, drink some lemonade, and find out their opposites are really not such a bad sort after all. So next time the power goes out there will still be looting, but afterward the newly respectful lower classes will sweep up the glass.

Either that or it's sort of like an amusement park for the destitute. Buy a 50-cent ticket, stand in line for 30 minutes and get a two-minute ride in a Lexus.

I can already detect some grousing about this just being another expensive government program of limited value, but before all you taxpayers get on your high horse, let me put your minds at ease by pointing out that the architect of this project assures us he can get it done for a mere $20 million grant from the Department of Labor.

Is that such a high price to pay for the opportunity for low-income people to take firm hold of their bootstraps and yank themselves into economic nirvana? If this program guarantees that one person, just one person, achieves financial success wouldn't it be worth it? And doesn't this at the very least guarantee that the person administrating the program will achieve financial success? So there you go.

Of course, another way might be to simply identify the 200 poorest families in Hagerstown and give them each $100,000, but I think we can all agree that's just a little too Jimmy Carter. Besides, that would do nothing toward the main goal of re-using the old Army base.

Of course for a mere $5 million, I would be willing to relocate my office from Antietam Street to Fort Ritchie and hire a clerical staff of disadvantaged exotic dancers. And the taxpayers will save $15 million. If that's not a win-win, I don't know what is. Anybody got the number for the Department of Labor?

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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