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Fort Ritchie developer to lay off six employees

Company will also stop contributing to community center at the end of 2011

June 09, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • The developer of Fort Ritchie will lay off six employees and stop contributing financially to the former Army post's community center at the end of the year, company officials said Thursday.
Herald-Mail file photo

CASCADE — The developer of Fort Ritchie will lay off six employees and stop contributing financially to the former Army post's community center at the end of the year, company officials said Thursday.

With litigation still pending concerning the environmental impact of development plans for the site, Corporate Office Properties Trust officials have decided to cut more than half of its local workforce there, spokeswoman Stephanie Krewson said.

The Army base in Washington County was closed in 1998 and has been transferred to the Columbia, Md.-based company, which plans a development that includes 1.7 million square feet of office space and 673 homes and apartments. A judge ordered the project put on hold in late 2009 because of the lawsuit.

The litigation prevents COPT from advancing its development plans, so the company will pare its mowing and landscaping efforts, Krewson said. The land will still be kept neat, but the company is laying off some landscaping employees to save money until it can move forward, Krewson said.

The six employees were offered jobs elsewhere within the company, though at least some of them did not take the  offer because it would have required moving, Krewson said.

That leaves four full-time employees and a manager, who was full-time but will now split time between Fort Ritchie and another property, Krewson said.

"We are not selling Fort Ritchie," Krewson said.

The company announced on April 28 that it was launching a new strategy to focus on its properties that serve tenants in the federal government and defense-technology industries, while selling other properties as it scales back its involvement with traditional suburban office properties, according to Krewson and the company's website at www.copt.com.

The company's long-term intent is still to develop the Cascade-area property, Krewson said. However, COPT officials cannot say with certainty what they will be able to do at the site for the next three to four years, she said.

In addition to the lawsuit, the Army disclosed in February that it had tested tactical herbicides at the property, including field trials with Agent Orange in 1963.

The disclosure led to the company writing down the value of the property to zero, according to a March 31 report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Company officials notified investors they do not expect to recover the $28 million investment in the property.

The write-down doesn't mean the property is worthless, Krewson said. There are factors beyond the company's control, and it "can't sell it or anything with the ongoing lawsuit and the Army disclosure compounding things," she said.



Community center cuts

The company also recently notified Fort Ritchie Community Center officials that it will stop providing financial assistance to the community center at the end of 2011, said Bob Spence, the center's executive director.

Since the community center opened almost three years ago, the company has helped support it financially, Spence said. The plan was for the company's financial support to decrease gradually down to nothing, but Spence said he wasn't expecting that support to end this soon.

Spence said COPT has contributed approximately $60,000 to the center so far this year.

Taking into account that the community center recently received its nonprofit 501(c)(3) status and reviewing costs associated with Fort Ritchie, Krewson said COPT officials think the center is established enough to support itself now.

The company might still make smaller charitable contributions to the center, she said.

Spence said center officials have begun pursuing grants and are organizing fundraising activities.

He said fees are not being changed at present for the approxmiately 1,450 members.

The Fort Ritchie Community Center, which opened in September 2008, was built with funds from COPT and the Pen Mar Development Corp.

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