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Fix it up and they will come

January 13, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Representatives of a North Bethesda, Md., development company on Monday urged the PenMar Development Corp. to begin improving infrastructure at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base to make the property an attractive site for housing, educational facilities, businesses and corporate offices.

Arthur N. Fuccillo, vice president of development for Lerner Enterprises and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Rogers of Oak Hill Properties - a company that works closely with Lerner on development ventures - gave PenMar's board of directors an overview of what they think needs to be done to revitalize the approximately 600-acre base if it is to become a thriving community.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the base. The Army shut Fort Ritchie down in 1998, and 2,000 jobs were lost as a result.

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Lerner is one of two companies interested in taking charge of development at the base.

Last week, Strategic Alliance Group of Baltimore submitted a proposal that aims to create more than 3,600 jobs with a technology park, educational center and health-care facilities.

Fuccillo and Rogers said they did not know specifically which types of businesses would be interested in base property if they were to develop it, but that making sure infrastructure, such as roads, water and sewer, is upgraded would help market the base.

They also recommended that PenMar reach out to community groups, the Washington County Board of Education and businesses as first steps toward making the base a place where people would want to spend their time.

Rogers said PenMar should do what it can to make sure the expansion of the International Masonry Institute (IMI), the base's largest tenant, is completed.

IMI is planning a $15 million to $16 million expansion to provide additional training programs to more than double the number of students, IMI officials have said.

It also plans to employ up to 200 people, they said. As of this fall, the institute had 33 full-time workers.

"If I were the PenMar board, I would be putting as much as I could in this particular property," Fuccillo said.

"I wouldn't do anything but create a real sense of place," Fuccillo said. "If we haven't created the sense of place beforehand ... it's just not going to be attractive enough to people."

If it is attractive, jobs will follow, he said.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan, who is a PenMar board member, suggested that a magnet school for kindergarten to 12th-grade students be considered as part of the plans for creating an educational area at the base.

Rogers said some of the base's townhouses, single-family homes and duplexes contain lead paint and asbestos and would be torn down.

He said those units would be replaced by detached single-family homes.

Some of the properties Lerner has developed include Washington Square in Washington, D.C., a 1-million-square-foot office and retail development; the Dulles Town Center, a 1.4 million-square-foot two-level mall in a 554-acre development in Loudoun County, Va.; and The Corporate Office Centre at Tysons II, a 5 million-square-foot mixed-use development in Fairfax County, Va.

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