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Redeveloping Fort Ritchie: Munson's retreat no answer

August 16, 2003

Washington County Commissioner John Munson has a solution to the slow pace of redevelopment at the former Fort Ritchie: Give up and send the deed back to Uncle Sam. It's the sort of thing one might say after a long frustrating day, but it's not a strategy and it's not what citizens pay the commissioners $30,000 a year to do.

The old fort was closed in 1998, costing the area 2,000 jobs. The PenMar Development Corporation, a citizen group appointed by the commissioners to redevelop the base, has had to deal with some unexpected problems, notably unexploded ordnance and the litigation involved with Role Models Academy.

But aside from the International Masonry Institute, PMDC hasn't been able to nail down any other tenants, even though the facility has lots of amenities.

In our view, PMDC has hurt its own cause by failing to work with the community on items like opening the gymnasium to local youth sports teams and the base firing range to local police agencies.

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PMDC may argue that both issues are more complicated than just opening the doors, but it could not hurt to be able to tell business prospects that there was a gym on the base, complete with the latest fitness equipment, that employees could use and that police were in the area regularly to practice their marksmanship.

In addition, what does it say about PMDC's ability to negotiate with an industrial client if it cannot deal amicably with local police and community groups?

What is the commissioners' role in all this? The county board appoints PMDC's members and should be keeping track of their progress, or lack of same. And if PMDC can't find the answer on its own, the commissioners need to supply a little bit of help.

Fort Ritchie wasn't the only base shut in the last round of closings, nor is Washington County the only community with a redevelopment board. Somebody somewhere has found a way to make the process work for the benefit of their community.

What officials like Munson need to do is seek out those success stories, perhaps through the National Association of Counties, and bring them to PMDC's attention. Anyone can say "I give up." But that's not what citizens pay John Munson $30,000 a year to do.

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