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Memo to PenMar: Start over

July 11, 2004

To the editor:

PenMar Development Corporation, the Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) for Fort Ritchie, is reportedly poised to sign an exclusive negotiation agreement with a private sector "master developer" in a second attempt to outsource major redevelopment tasks at the closed base in Cascade. A previous agreement with Lerner Enterprises of Bethesda, Md., expired last December. This time it appears PenMar is hanging its hopes on Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md.

The current deal apparently envisions PenMar ultimately selling the entire base outright to COPT. As a result, we are rightfully concerned whether COPT is really the best developer for Fort Ritchie, and we want to know who will have ultimate oversight over the quality and character of the development if COPT does in fact end up owning 600 acres of land in Cascade.

According to a paper prepared for the National Association of Installation Developers (NAID), which advertises itself as one of the best sources of information "for any organization involved in the economic development, conversion and reuse of military real estate," a five-step process should be followed when an LRA selects a master developer for exclusive negotiations. At the core of the five steps is the issuance of RFQs and RFPs (requests for qualifications/proposals) by the LRA to a pool of prospective developers. By doing so, the LRA can establish a competitive process to select a master developer for exclusive negotiations.

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The NAID paper states, "The competitive RFQ/RFP solicitation process offers a valuable opportunity to maximize the bid price and development quality and minimize public subsidy. Stating clear and specific requirements based on realistic expectations, establishing a consistent format for proposal submissions, providing input regarding expectations during pre-bid discussions, and evaluating past examples of candidate developers' work can all contribute to a high-quality pool of proposals. For the purposes of redeveloping a former military base into a vital part of the community, the RFQ/RFP approach is clearly superior to simply putting property on the market."

Given that PenMar has apparently done none of this, we question whether the solicitation process used thus far is a valid one. And given that COPT's expertise is in creating suburban office parks, we question whether COPT is the right outfit to implement the mix of business, residential and recreational uses planned for Fort Ritchie. As such, if the process used by PenMar to zero in on COPT was not a competitive process, we recommend it be terminated immediately for the common good.

PenMar will not own any property to sell for at least several months, and possibly a year or longer, due to unresolved legal maneuverings involving lawsuits filed by Role Models America. Either way, PenMar should take the time to do things the right way in order to find the most qualified master developer for Fort Ritchie. We recommend that PenMar start over with a competitive selection process like that recommended by base redevelopment experts. If PenMar needs to hire professional help to develop or evaluate RFQ/RFPs, they should do it. They've got the money, and the cost would be peanuts compared to what they are spending on legal fees.

The experts say a competitive RFQ/RFP process enhances the LRA's negotiating position, clarify oversight and accountability issues, and ensure developer adherence to the community's redevelopment plan. For instance, if the County will not create and maintain a public park at Fort Ritchie, PenMar can make creation of a park part of the RFP criteria before it selects a master developer. There is simply no evidence that PenMar's existing selection process will produce those kinds of results.

Finally, on a related issue, we fully support efforts within the PenMar board to revise its bylaws so as to restrict future private gain by PenMar board members, executives and their families through employment or business dealings with the master developer if and when one is selected. That would help eliminate a very real source of potential conflicts of interest that could otherwise easily bias the master developer selection process.

Robin Biser Wayne Buhrman Jim Lemon Karl Weissenbach

Cascade Committee

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