Former armory to become a small business incubator

June 11, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

Sometimes if you gamble with a concept long enough, you come up with two-for-one.

The initial idea was a training center in Hagerstown for people interested in learning construction trades. Now, a joint effort by a contractors' association and developers with Hagerstown ties will result in both the new training center and some centralized incubators for small businesses.

For several years, Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, attempted to negotiate a transfer of the state-owned former National Guard Armory on North Potomac Street to a private owner - namely, the Cumberland Valley chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. The group planned to put a training center in the building.

After some false starts, the property finally was transferred earlier this year - first to the city, then to ABC.

But by that time, the association had found another property that would better suit its purposes - the former Broadway School, recently vacated by a child-care center.


Munson remembered a past conversation he'd had with a Frederick County investor who had an interest in Hagerstown buildings, put ABC in touch with him, and on Friday, they all gathered at the armory to announce ABC's plans to renovate the Broadway School - and Ridgecrest Investments Inc.'s plans to renovate the armory.

Ridgecrest's principals are Frederick investor John R. Laughlin and Hagerstown native Frankie Corsi, who plan to renovate the armory into a small business incubator with small suites and professional offices, one of several "business development centers" planned for existing buildings in the city. Laughlin and Corsi are completing work on such a center at the former Goodwill warehouse at the corner of Prospect and Church streets. Laughlin said he hopes both projects will be completed this fall.

Rents for the armory suites will start at $395, according to a Ridgecrest release. The rental price will include utilities and maintenance.

Laughlin, who has several family ties to Hagerstown, said the suites will best be suited for two- or three-person professional offices. The partners operate three such centers in Frederick, Md., he said.

"We buy the bigger buildings that other people don't want," he said. And they're looking at several others in Hagerstown.

Joan L. Warner, president of the Cumberland Valley ABC chapter, said the new training center would provide apprenticeship programs and training in the construction and maintenance trades as well as safety training. She said she hoped the center would help disadvantaged or displaced workers learn employable skills.

"There's a shortage of skilled craftsmen," she said. "If we're gonna have people do the work, we've gotta start training them."

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