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Company interested in Ritchie

May 11, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A Columbia, Md., company that develops and manages suburban office properties is interested in redeveloping the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base, the company's executive vice president said Monday.

But Roger Waesche, executive vice president of Corporate Office Properties Trust, declined to discuss details of the company's talks with PenMar Development Corp. Inc.

"At this point we're just in general discussions with them," Waesche said. "There's other people who have interest, too."

Waesche said he'd rather PenMar deal with questions about COPT's interest in the former base.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base, which the Army shut down in 1998.

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"We're in discussions with different companies," PenMar board Chairman Ron Sulchek said. "I can't really discuss any details about our discussions."

PenMar Executive Director Rich Rook had no comment.

"It's my understanding that they've asked for confidentiality, and I'm going to honor that," Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said.

Wivell is a PenMar board member.

According to COPT's Web site, the company owns 131 office properties worth more than $4 billion, mainly in the Mid-Atlantic region.

COPT acquired $143 million worth of property in 2001 and $107 million worth of property in 2002.

At a PenMar meeting Monday morning, the director of a Cascade residents group said he was concerned COPT would leave the community out of its plans.

Karl Weissenbach, director of the Cascade Committee, also questioned during a public meeting whether COPT had any experience in redeveloping military bases. He said he didn't find any information indicating that COPT had dealings in community planning after looking at its Web site.

He said much of COPT's business is in leasing to federal civilian and military agencies and their contractors in the intelligence field.

Weissenbach said the Cascade Committee wants the base to be redeveloped for economic, residential and recreational purposes, rather than strictly for business use.

He also asked why PenMar wasn't negotiating with Lerner Enterprises Inc. of North Bethesda, Md.

Last month, Sulchek said Lerner put talks with PenMar on hold after the PenMar board voted to negotiate with other companies. Sulchek said it would be up to PenMar to restart discussions with Lerner.

Another organization, Strategic Alliance Group Inc. of Baltimore, is interested in taking charge of development at the former base.

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