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Berkeley Co. signs contract to buy outlets

February 12, 2002

Berkeley Co. signs contract to buy outlets



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


The Berkeley County Building Commission signed a 50-page contract to purchase the former Blue Ridge Outlet complex Monday, paving the way for a plan to turn the buildings into a new Berkeley County judicial complex.

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After the commission signed the contract, arrangements were made to send the contract overnight to Lend Lease Real Estate Investment Inc., a Dallas, Texas, firm that will sign the contract on behalf of the sellers, State Street Bank.

The deal is scheduled to go to closing within 45 days.

The Berkeley County Commissioners announced over a week ago that they had arranged a deal to buy the once-bustling outlet complex for $3.8 million.

The announcement finalized decades of discussions about how to meet the space needs of Berkeley County's court system, which is spread out among five buildings in the city.

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Not only has the county been running out of space for court operations, but having the court system in five buildings poses challenges for security, officials have said.

The Community and Technical College of Shepherd, which moved into the outlet complex last year, will lease 30,000-square-feet from the county for its school.

Under the arrangement, the college will move from what is called the Berkeley Building to the Dunn Building, Strauss said.

On Friday at 11 a.m., the county commissioners and Shepherd College officials will tour the Dunn Building to determine what renovations are needed to make the building suitable for the college, said Berkeley County Commission President Howard Strauss.

A total of $5 million will be borrowed from nine banks in the area, and the $1.2 million above the purchase price will be set aside to pay for engineering costs and some renovation costs for the Dunn Building, Strauss said.

Strauss said he wants the Community and Technical College of Shepherd to be moved into its new location before work proceeds to transform the outlet complex into a judicial center.

Strauss has said he expects the judicial center to be open by 2005.

Next Tuesday at 4:15 p.m., the commissioners will meet with Ken Jendura to determine how much it will cost to convert the outlet buildings into a judicial complex, Strauss said. Jendura is a representative with Spillis Candela DMJM, an Arlington, Va.-firm hired to help develop the court complex project.

"The train is moving and it's going to move from one step to another," Strauss said.

Because the commissioners cannot buy property if they would have to pay interest, the building will be purchased by the Berkeley County Building Commission. The commission is an agency that was set up to assist the commission in buying properties.

Strauss said the Berkeley Building likely will be used for the judicial center and the Crawford Building next door will be reserved for future expansion.

The horseshoe-shaped Berkeley building has an outdoor walkway at the center, and plans call for that area to be enclosed to provide space for three Circuit courtrooms, Strauss said.

Because Circuit courtrooms have to be between 12 feet and 14 feet high, the enclosed area will be taller than the rest of the building, Strauss said.

Owners of businesses around the former outlet center, who have suffered dropping sales since the outlet stores left, praised the move Monday.

"I'm just tickled pink," said Tom Keys, co-owner of the Ambassador Flag Co. across the street from the outlet complex on South Raleigh Street.

Having the county's judicial offices in the outlet complex will not bring surrounding businesses as many retail dollars, but it will go a long way toward insuring the vitality of the downtown area, said Keys.

"I think the city of Martinsburg is the big winner here," said Keys. "Now if we can get someone in Martin's over here, the whole block will be complete."

Keys was referring to a former grocery store building on South Raleigh Street that had been occupied by Martin's Food Market. The grocery chain moved out of the building about six years ago and is now located beside the Martinsburg Mall.

Several boutiques and specialty shops sprouted up around the once thriving Blue Ridge Outlet shops. When the outlets moved out, business suffered greatly at Roses, Garden and Treasures Florist and Gifts, said Carla Hopkins, who runs the shop with her husband Charles.

Now the West Stephen Street businesswoman is keeping her fingers crossed that everything will work out for the judicial center.

"We're just hoping and praying it will generate more traffic and business for us," said Hopkins.

"We think it's good, but how fast will it be up and going? If they just get it going and not drag their feet," said Peggy LeMaster, who owns The House with the White Picket Fence, a gift shop next door.

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