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Developer unveils vision for former Fort Ritchie

September 28, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - The former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base would be a place where Cascade-area residents could picnic, play sports and hold town meetings.

It also would be a magnet for major companies that would create high-paying jobs for possibly thousands of people, with some of those employees living on the property.

That's some of what the Columbia, Md.,-based developer, Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) envision for the 638-acre base over the next 10 to 15 years.

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COPT representatives Monday night unveiled a preliminary plan for the property, which contains approximately 582 acres of developable land, COPT President and Chief Operating Officer Randall M. Griffin said.

The two-hour meeting at the base's Lakeside Hall drew more than 100 people.

The PenMar Development Corp., which has been overseeing the base since the late 1990s, signed an agreement with COPT in July to sell the property for $9 million. The sale price will drop to $5 million if COPT creates 1,400 jobs over nine years.

COPT also must pay $7.5 million for upgrades to roads, the sewer system and to make other improvements, although Griffin said he expects the company to spend millions more on base upgrades.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop Fort Ritchie and restore jobs that were lost when the Army closed the base. Since that time, PenMar has been able to attract and retain one major tenant - a masonry training center.

Griffin said the preliminary plan calls for ripping down some buildings and adding others. He said there eventually would be 673 dwelling units, including 90 single-family homes, 166 town houses, 152 garden apartments, and other types of housing.

All of the approximately 600 dwelling units that exist on the base now, with the exception of 92 duplexes, would be demolished and replaced, Griffin said.

A community center for residents of the Cascade area would sit on about 20 acres and would include police and fire stations.

"I really believe that this community center, when it is finished, will be the heart of the community on a regional basis," Griffin said. "I would hope that this would be the community center that would literally pull this community together."

Griffin said the preliminary plan calls for two softball fields, two soccer fields, two outdoor tennis courts and two outdoor basketball courts.

Peter Garver of COPT said the sports fields might change depending on the recommendations of a focus group that would be set up to shape the community center.

Garver said COPT plans to spend at least $16.9 million upgrading the base, including $6.6 million to demolish buildings, $4.6 million on road improvements within the property and about $2.3 million on improving the storm and sanitary sewer systems.

Sixty-four of the 68 historic buildings on the base would be spared from demolition, Griffin and Garver said. Those that would be torn down, a step that depends on state approval, would be located in areas designated for business use.

The preliminary plan would designate 67 acres for historic and mixed use, 20.4 acres for community use, 22.1 acres for general business, 57.3 acres for restricted businesses - an area off limits to the public, 134.8 acres for residential use and 257 acres for forest preservation. The base's two lakes, totaling 24.2 acres, would be maintained, Griffin said.

COPT would keep the building used by International Masonry Institute in place, but Griffin said he wasn't sure whether the training center would remain a tenant.

He said the center's lease expires in 2006 and that the school has been negotiating a move to Prince George's County, Md.

COPT, a self-managed real estate investment trust, focuses on the ownership, management, leasing, acquisition and development of suburban office properties mainly in the mid-Atlantic region, according to its investment profile.

COPT's lengthy list of tenants include the federal government, AT&T Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., The Boeing Co. and Johns Hopkins University.

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