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Developer projects $255 million tag to renovate Ritchie

November 04, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - The Columbia, Md., developer that has agreed to buy the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base estimates it will take more than $255 million to convert the property into a business center and residential community, according to the company's development plan for the base.

But the developer - Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) - doesn't make any commitment about who's going to pay to build or operate a proposed community center for Cascade-area residents.

The PenMar Development Corp. has agreed to sell the approximately 630-acre base to COPT for $9 million. That price would drop to $5 million if COPT creates 1,400 jobs over several years. Ultimately, COPT envisions creating 4,541 jobs once the redevelopment is completed over a 10- to 20-year period.

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PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the base, which the Army shut down in 1998. The Army must transfer the land to PenMar before PenMar can sell the property.

According to COPT's Oct. 25 development plan, the company has proposed building a community center at the base, but there's uncertainty about where funding would come from. COPT estimates in the plan that it would cost $2.99 million to build the community center.

The community center would consist of meeting rooms, a game room, an aerobics classroom, a pool, a weight room and other amenities. Outdoor sports fields would be built as part of the center.

"While COPT and PenMar agree to the establishment of a public community center ... the sources of funding for the construction and operation of such a facility have not yet been identified."

COPT states in the plan that, at a minimum, sports fields would be built and available for use by the public at no cost.

One Mountain Foundation, a residents group representing the Cascade area, including towns in nearby Pennsylvania and Frederick County, Md., and the Cascade Committee, which consists of Cascade-area residents, have asked that such a community center be built at the base.

Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell, who is treasurer of the PenMar board of directors, said at a recent County Commissioners meeting that he was concerned about the development plan because it doesn't address funding for the community center.

Commissioner John C. Munson said in an interview Wednesday that if COPT doesn't have a funding plan for the center, the county shouldn't end up getting stuck with the bill.

Funding for the facility "won't come from the county," Munson said. "I don't think anyone with sense in their head would propose the county doing it."

Munson said he didn't think Washington County should support something used by residents who don't live in the county.

"Why should our tax dollars be paying for ... out-of-staters?" Munson said. "We can't touch that with a 10-foot pole. We have too much other stuff to do."

In addition, Munson said, he didn't think a community center would be a good fit for the base, because the mission of PenMar was to create jobs.

PenMar board Chairman George Griffin said Wednesday that he didn't know whether PenMar or the county would be asked to pay for the community center.

"We don't know. We're still trying to figure that out," Griffin said. "That's part of an internal discussion, and I don't have an answer for that."

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