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PenMar, developer talks at a standstill

April 30, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - A North Bethesda, Md., developer has stopped negotiations with the PenMar Development Corp. about taking charge of revitalizing the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base.

PenMar board Chairman Ron Sulchek said Thursday he thinks the company, Lerner Enterprises Inc., is waiting for PenMar to get serious about it becoming the lead developer of the approximately 630-acre base.

Lerner had been in talks with PenMar for more than a year. For a time, it had an agreement with PenMar for exclusive negotiations. During those talks, the sides were unable to reach an agreement on Lerner becoming the master developer.

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Sulchek said the action by Lerner came after the majority of the PenMar board recently voted to negotiate with other companies interested in becoming the former base's master developer.

"I think they ... put off discussions until we're serious about negotiating an agreement with them," Sulchek said.

Last month, PenMar Executive Director Richard Rook said Lerner was PenMar's "main interest."

Sulchek said the decision by the PenMar board to speak with other companies was not unanimous.

"I didn't agree with it," Sulchek said.

He said he thinks it would be up to the PenMar board to contact Lerner about restarting negotiations. The last time PenMar met with Lerner was in March.

"I think their position is we need to decide what we want to do," Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said. "I think the ball's pretty much in PenMar's hands.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the former base, which the Army shut down in 1998. Approximately 2,000 jobs were lost when the base closed.

Kevin Rogers, chief operating officer of Oak Hill Properties, a company that works with Lerner on development ventures, declined to comment Thursday. Oak Hill would have a part in redeveloping the former base if Lerner were to become the head developer.

Sulchek said a bill proposed earlier this year by the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly caused Lerner to pause negotiations at that time.

The bill, which was rejected by lawmakers, would have given the state more oversight of the PenMar board. An earlier version of the bill called for the replacement of the board.

Sulchek said Lerner didn't want to negotiate with a new board.

Two other groups are interested in becoming PenMar's master developer, PenMar officials have said.

Andrew Klopman, president of Strategic Alliance Group Inc. in Baltimore, said last month he is offering PenMar a $500,000 deposit if it selects his group to take charge of redevelopment at the former base. A plan the group submitted to PenMar in January states it would create 3,674 jobs at the former base.

A third company has expressed interest in taking the lead at Fort Ritchie, but it does not want its name made public, Wivell has said.

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