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On the sale of Fort Ritchie, a few more details, please

July 29, 2004

The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday revealed that the former Fort Ritchie Army base will be sold for $9 million, $5 million of which could be rebated if the buyer doesn't create 1,400 jobs in a certain amount of time.

That buyer, the Columbia, Md.-based Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT), must also spend at least $7.5 million improving roads, sewer system and other amenities there.

Is this a good deal? At this point, it's tough to tell, for a couple of reasons. There was no appraisal of the property or competitive bidding process and some estimates for infrastructure upgrades top $20 million.

On the other hand, there's apparently a clause that gives the county a chance to back out if it's not satisfied with COPT's job-creation efforts in the first 90 days.

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And the property goes onto the tax rolls, which should provide some additional revenue for any improvements needed to either or both of the two-lane roads that provide access to the old base.

Another good sign: Randall Griffin, CEO of COPT, said he wanted to meet with residents of the surrounding community about ideas his company has for the base. A promise of access and a willingness to listen will go a long away toward assuaging Cascade residents' fears that they'll be shut out of the process altogether.

As we've said previously, unless COPT books a super-secret government agency as a top tenant, it ought to allow the community access to some facility.

Cascade residents may not be be CIA agents, but if a CIA station were located there, local folks could provide support services for it. And residents who feel they're part of the action would have more incentive to keep their eyes open for potential threats.

COPT should also give strong consideration to keeping the International Masonry Institute as a tenant. IMI has waited patiently for something to happen at the base and shouldn't get the bum's rush now.

The bottom line: Even Washington County Commissioners President Greg Snook says this isn't a perfect agreement. But more than five years after the base closed, there was pressure to get things moving.

We welcome COPT to Washington County and look forward to reporting on the firm's redevelopment of the old fort into a new center for jobs.

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