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Developer shares his plan for Fort Ritchie

October 24, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

CASCADE - The redevelopment of the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base with 673 homes, 1.7 million square feet of offices and 4,500 new jobs will create "the American Dream" for many, the president of developer Corporate Office Properties Trust said.

Randall M. Griffin presented plans for rental and sale residences, athletic fields, a museum, restaurants, a community center, a conference center, doctors' offices and a day-care center at a VIP reception before Monday's transfer ceremony at the base.

He also talked about plans for 800,000 square feet of Secure Compartmentalized Information Facilities at the center of the former base - military space that could be used by Washington, D.C., agencies in the event of an attack there, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said.

"We now recognize we live in a very dangerous world ... so all of our government agencies have the responsibility of having a coup site," Bartlett said, identifying positives as the remoteness of the former Fort Ritchie and the awareness of "patriotic people" in the surrounding community.

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COPT closed on 500 of the base's 591 acres earlier this month through an investment valued at more than $300 million. The Columbia, Md., developer wants to create a first-class community with services, homes and workplaces in close proximity, Griffin said.

"You're developing a community where you can see where you work," Bartlett said.

Retired Col. Arlyn Madsen shared memories of his children biking or walking to activities when the family lived on the base for three years in the 1970s.

"Fort Ritchie as a post was idyllic," Madsen said.

Griffin envisions the return of an idyllic community over the next 10 years in a project named The Renaissance. The process will start with demolition and utilities improvements over the winter followed by conversion of the former gymnasium into a community center next spring, he said.

COPT will be replacing roads and electrical, water, sewer and phone lines under an obligation to make $7.5 million in improvements.

"We think now it will be $30 million that will be required before we can get going," Griffin said.

Griffin said young, career-minded people approached him after public meetings and said they wanted to live and work in the area. They said they currently commute to work and live with their parents.

"There are agencies that left here but want to come back," Griffin said.

The 92 walk-up and 152 garden apartments would lend themselves to a renter starting a career, who would then purchase one of the 90 single-family houses, 166 town houses or 173 condominiums, Griffin said.

COPT, which first visited the base in early 1998, plans to rehabilitate and open 64 of the 68 historic buildings. The white World War II-era barracks are scheduled for demolition.

The "finger buildings" used in the past as 124,759-square-foot mess halls for the National Guard will be maintained as commercial supports like copy centers, doctors' offices and coffee shops, Griffin said.

The Renaissance also will include residences and 60,000-square-foot office buildings with views of the lakes. Athletic fields and a retail center will consume 20 acres of the former parade grounds. The chaplain's house will be converted into a museum.

"We really spent time trying to understand what Fort Ritchie is and what Fort Ritchie needs. This is a well thought out, carefully articulated plan that preserves the history of Fort Ritchie," Griffin said.

PenMar Development Corp. President George Griffin presented Randall Griffin, no relation, with a shell to be displayed in the museum. Small explosives found during artillery cleanup stretched the project over several years, George Griffin said.

An undeveloped area was originally the site of a proposed golf course, but COPT opted to build houses there over concerns about course runoff, Randall Griffin said.

"The reality is (that) we're enhancing the environment with what we're doing. ... You're going to see an enhanced community here environmentally," said Randall Griffin, who described his public company as a long-term owner that typically doesn't sell projects.

The remaining 91 acres that have not been transferred to COPT are being reviewed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for oil and gas in the ground, George Griffin said.

The base's transfer, made as part of the 1995 Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure recommendations, met several lawsuits that delayed the deed changes from the Army to PenMar Development Corp. to COPT.

"It's obviously been hard on everyone, hence the name 'Renaissance.' That's what it really is. Today's a new beginning," Randall Griffin said.

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