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Future still murky for MELP building

December 11, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- The rundown former Municipal Electric Light Plant building might sit, as is, as long as the economy falters.

D. Bruce Poole, an attorney for the building's owner, said Monday that various plans for selling or redeveloping the property have been considered, but "the current status of the economy has kind of put sand in the gears on that."

Poole said trouble in the credit market has cooled interest and is one reason it's been difficult to make a transaction.

The building, across from Municipal Stadium, has sat idle and deteriorated for many years. At times, it was a magnet for indoor fires and homeless trespassers, which sometimes were connected.

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During the summer, the city put up a chain-link fence and welded metal grids over the windows as safety precautions. H.D. Thompson of Partners Marketing LLP of Staunton, Va., the owner, was sent the bill of roughly $24,000.

John Lestitian, the city's chief code compliance officer, said Wednesday that Thompson still owes most of that amount and the city has attached a lien to the property.

The city has said for months that the next step in improving the property needs to come from Partners Marketing LLP.

A plan needs to address the alleged fire-safety violations for which the city fire marshal's office issued three summonses in the spring.

"To date, we have not received a plan to abate those violations," Lestitian said.

Poole said the safety improvements, a main concern, lessened the urgency for Thompson to do anything more with the property right away.

The Hagerstown Fire Department issued a citation April 6 after three people allegedly had trespassed in the vacant building.

Two more citations were issued about two weeks later - one alleging combustible materials were inside and the other doubling the fine for the April 6 ticket.

The fines were due in May and had not been paid as of Wednesday. The fire marshal's office has put the tickets on hold as the city continues talking with the owner on a larger solution for the property.

The city spent $23,147 on the fence and $1,213 on the welding. In September, Thompson had paid about $1,900 of the $24,360 the city said he owed.

Thompson didn't return a phone message Thursday evening.

Poole couldn't be reached at his office Wednesday or Thursday to comment on the lien, the unpaid safety expenses and the summonses.

The power plant shut down decades ago. In the 1990s, a $20 million plan was floated to generate energy at the building, in conjunction with a separate paper-recycling operation, but was not carried out.

Poole said Monday that the owner has heard from someone interested in the building for its scrap value; other potential suitors suggested an office park, a restaurant or other uses. Those plans will have to wait, though.

Besides the economy, other factors - such as the building's past heavy industrial use and its proximity to Antietam Creek - create challenges, he said.

"The reason this is such a difficult problem is because it is such a complex one," Poole said.

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