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Washington Co. seeks new users for vacant buildings

January 23, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS ? A new economic strategy could help Washington County find new users for its large, empty stores, county leaders told a state cabinet official Wednesday.

Members of the county's legislative lobbying coalition pitched a "reuse" concept for vacant buildings, hoping it could include state incentives.

Although David W. Edgerley, the secretary of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, said the financial climate isn't right for new tax breaks, coalition representatives called the meeting productive.

Brien J. Poffenberger, the president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said it was a good brainstorming session that showed the county was on the right track. Another round of talks with state officials is expected.

The county group, joined by its lobbyist and two state lawmakers, was pleased to hear Edgerley say the state could pay up to 50 percent for a feasibility study for the former Allegheny Energy headquarters at Friendship Technology Park.

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That was welcome news, too, for Brad Fulton, a partner in the limited liability company that owns the park.

Three years with no buyers for Allegheny building

"We would be most receptive to any help we can get," he said in a phone interview.

Fulton said it's been nearly three years with no buyers for the former Allegheny building, despite a recent "very significant price reduction."

Only the Washington County Board of Education has expressed interest in the 98,000-square-foot building and the 49 acres on which it sits, he said.

School officials said in June 2007 they'd consider the site for a new central office or Antietam Academy and that they were accepting bids for a feasibility study.

However, board member Wayne D. Ridenour said in a phone interview Wednesday that the project later was put on hold to get feedback from the Washington County Commissioners.

Fulton said he balked at having his LLC pay part of the costs of the feasibility study, as the school board proposed.

Ridenour acknowledged that was part of the initial plan.

Told about Edgerley's pledge for state assistance, Ridenour said, "That, to me, is pretty neat news."

Former Sears store, former County Market and two former Lowe's buildings

Wednesday in Annapolis, county leaders told Edgerley about a host of other empty buildings that need new life.

Art Callaham, executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, named the former Sears store and the former County Market grocery store. "We have two old Lowe's buildings," he noted. "An old, old Lowe's building and an old Lowe's building."

Mark A. Vulcan, a director of tax incentives for the Department of Business & Economic Development, noted that Washington County is one of two counties to adopt a state program that gives tax credits based on new construction and new jobs.

County leaders talked about adapting the program locally so it could apply to vacant buildings.

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