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Hancock buys former Fleetwood property

Town hopes to build industrial park to attract several smaller industries to area

Town hopes to build industrial park to attract several smaller industries to area

July 03, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HANCOCK -- The Town of Hancock purchased the former Fleetwood Travel Trailers plant this week with a $900,000 donation from a former resident, Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy announced Wednesday.

The town hopes to turn the property into an industrial park that will bring back some of the hundreds of jobs that the town has lost through the closure of three major factories over the past 14 years, Murphy said.

The town has been working with Washington County economic development officials since the plant's 2005 closure to bring a new business to the location, but so far has been unsuccessful, Murphy said.

"We thought rather than trying to attract one big fish, maybe we'll put several smaller industries in there sharing space," he said.

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The property at 35 South Street includes 125,882 square feet of industrial and office space, as well as more than 21 acres of land, Murphy said. The Hancock Town Council plans to manage the property and market it to multiple smaller industries, he said.

The purchase was made possible by a donation from philanthropist Stanley Fulton Jr., a former Hancock resident who made a fortune in the Las Vegas gaming business and recently helped pay for a restoration of the town's swimming pool, Murphy said.

"In the last month, he's spent over a million in Hancock," Murphy said. "We are forever grateful and indebted to him for his generosity."

Town officials also are hoping to get some assistance from the state to help fund repairs and maintenance to the property, Murphy said.

The town will lose about $10,000 from its real estate tax roll and will need to insure the property, Murphy said. The property generally is in good condition and had a recent upgrade to its electrical system, but other elements might need upgrades after years of sitting idle, Murphy said. Down the road, the roof also will need repairs, he said.

"There ought to be ways that the State of Maryland can help a town like Hancock fix a roof or add some garage doors because they all talk about the devastation that we've had," Murphy said.

State Sen. George C. Edwards and Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. previously have offered to do anything they can to help bring good jobs back to the Hancock community, Murphy said.

"If ever our state elected officials are going to help this town, this is their chance," he said.

The town of 1,700 lost its only remaining manufacturing jobs in March when Rayloc ceased production at its Hancock plant, laying off 260 workers. When Fleetwood closed in 2005, it lost the town almost 300 jobs, and in 1994, the town lost more than 300 jobs when London Fog shut down its Hancock coat factory.

Buying the property won't solve the town's woes overnight, but Murphy said leasing it in parcels might improve the chances of filling the space.

"We're not naive," he said. "We know it's tough economic times, but at least we control the building now. It might give us some flexibility."

Murphy said the downturn in the economy might have been a factor in the county's inability to seal a deal with the last company to express serious interest in the property. That company, a metal fabrication business inside the Washington, D.C., beltway, could be one potential tenant for the new park, he said.

Town officials also have talked about targeting manufacturers trying to cut into the "green" market with products such as hybrid cars. Another potential tenant is a local man who previously expressed interest in using the site for a machine shop, Murphy said.

"I guess the list is endless as to what could go in there," he said.

Reselling the entire property is not out of the question either, if a buyer came along that could bring enough jobs, Murphy said.

Anyone interested in available space in the Fleetwood plant may call the town's office at 301-678-5622.

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