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Base sale may fund upgrades

July 01, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Money the PenMar Development Corporation would receive from a sale of the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base in Cascade would either be used to upgrade the property or given to the Army.

Ron Sulchek, chairman of the PenMar board of directors, said Wednesday a memorandum of agreement between PenMar and the Army requires such arrangements.

Sulchek said, for example, PenMar may use the sale money to construct office buildings for the county, upgrade the property's gym or to build schools at the 636-acre base.

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"If we don't, we have to give (the money) back to the Army," Sulchek said.

At an unadvertised special meeting on Tuesday, the PenMar board of directors authorized its negotiating committee to complete a sale contract with Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md.

Once the final contract is complete, PenMar's board chairman will sign it if there are no major changes to a draft sale agreement between PenMar and COPT, PenMar Executive Director Rich Rook said Tuesday.

PenMar will lease the base to COPT until the Army transfers the property to PenMar and until a final sale agreement is reached.

Sulchek declined to say how much COPT would pay to buy the base, but that COPT has 90 days to submit a development plan to PenMar as part of the draft sale agreement.

If PenMar or COPT can't come to terms on the development plan, Sulchek said it's possible both sides might decide to reject the final sale agreement.

PenMar would then begin looking for other developers interested in the base, he said.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the base, which the Army shut down in 1998.

PenMar and COPT officials have refused to say why COPT is interested in the property or how it plans to use it.

COPT manages and develops suburban office properties, according to COPT's Web site.

Sulchek said COPT promised PenMar it would create jobs at the former base but that PenMar has been unable to confirm what those jobs would be.

Sulchek was the lone PenMar board member to vote against authorizing a final sales agreement with COPT, saying he thought hiring a master developer would bring more economic development potential to the base and community.

Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval said if a sale agreement is signed, he thinks the buyer should have to improve the property's roads and other infrastructure should the land ever end up in the county's hands.

He also said the agreement should address community uses of the former base.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said Wednesday afternoon that selling the base to COPT could be positive news for the county, because it might generate jobs.

"I'm just excited that something might finally be settled with that property after all these years," Nipps said. "This could be a really good thing for us."

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