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Firm's CEO says former fort will be an 'American dream'

Plan would invest about $300 million in Fort Ritchie

Plan would invest about $300 million in Fort Ritchie

December 15, 2005|By TARA REILLY

HALFWAY

tarar@herald-mail.com

In 15 years, the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base in Cascade might resemble a small, bustling community.

With about 4,500 jobs, 673 occupied housing units and a museum and community center planned for the site by then, Randall M. Griffin, CEO and president of the real estate investment trust developing the base, said the fort would be an "American dream."

"In Cascade, a lot of young people have said to us ... (they) would love to stay in the community, find a job and live there," Griffin said. "This gives you the opportunity."

Griffin, of Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) in Columbia, Md., discussed the redevelopment plan at a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues meeting Wednesday at the Plaza Hotel.

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Griffin said the housing units at the base will consist of several dwelling types for various income levels and that jobs would range from federal intelligence and defense positions to jobs offered by small starter businesses.

COPT plans to invest about $300 million into the base's revitalization, Griffin said.

PenMar agreed to sell the approximately 600-acre base to COPT for $5 million. If COPT doesn't create 1,400 over nine years, the price will jump to $9 million.

COPT can't take ownership of the base until the property is transferred from the Army to PenMar. Legal battles have been holding up the transfer, but Griffin said the lawsuits are working their way through the legal system.

A former tenant and two Cascade property owners have filed lawsuits regarding the base.

"It's frustrating, quite frankly, to sit here with a very exciting project ready to go and then just be on hold," Griffin said.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the former base, which the state closed in 1998.

Griffin said PenMar had four objectives in its efforts to revitalize the property.

The agency was trying to create jobs and boost economic development, do so without putting a financial burden on Washington County, put the base back on the county's tax rolls and provide a place for community activities, he said.

Griffin said COPT has the financial resources, experience and commitment to accomplish those tasks.

COPT owns 160 properties, which total about 13.5 million square feet of office space and has a total market value of about $3 billion. Of that amount, about $2 billion is in equity, Griffin said. Most of its properties are in the Greater Washington, D.C., region.

"About 60,000 to 65,000 people are in our buildings every day," Griffin said. "It's like running a small city."

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