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COPT has 'long-term vision' for Fort Ritchie

June 13, 2011|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

The real estate market might remain in the doldrums for a few more years, new development has been stopped by a lawsuit and the work force has been reduced, but an official with Corporate Office Properties Trust said Monday his company is in for the long run at Fort Ritchie.

“It’s a property we’ve bought and a property we have a long-term vision to develop,” COPT Senior Vice President for Government Services Charles J. Fiala Jr. said after PenMar Development Corp.’s monthly meeting in the Fort Ritchie Community Center.

Six employees of the developer were told last week that their jobs at the 600-acre former Army fort were being eliminated and they were informed of other potential employment opportunities with COPT, Fiala said. That will reduce the work force to four full-time employees and a part-time manager, he said.

He likened the property to “a small town” with the company’s technicians being responsible for maintaining buildings and electricity, water, sewer and other infrastructure.

Some roads likely will be closed in another cost-saving measure, Fiala said, but much of the property will be maintained in its present state for potential customers to see, he said.

“Like any other company, COPT needs to match its expenses to commercial tenants’ and residential tenants’ requirements,” Fiala told the PenMar board.

“I don’t need to tell anyone in this room what the economy is,” Fiala said, noting real estate market conditions and a lawsuit against the Department of Defense concerning the possible environmental impact of development at the fort. The real estate market could be three to five years from full recovery, he said.

The majority of the property was purchased by COPT in 2006, Fiala said. His company has demolished 700,000 square feet of obsolete World War II wooden buildings, while removing mold-causing materials from more than 100,000 square feet of historic buildings, and stabilizing them, he said.

COPT also removed 45 underground tanks, he said.

“We still believe this is a great piece of property” and COPT plans to move ahead with development, Fiala said.

Fort Ritchie Community Center Executive Director Bob Spence said COPT was expected to contribute about $180,000 to the center in 2012, but told the board that its board is not expecting that money next year.

The center recently received its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and can now hold charitable fundraising and apply for grants, Spence said. Becoming a charitable nonprofit would limit the contributions the center can receive from a single source, and the center anticipated funding from COPT would decline at about 10 percent a year as the center raised more of its own funds.

“It does not mean we would not elect to contribute to the community center. We probably will, but it won’t be $180,000,” Fiala said. He and Spence said the goal all along has been to have the center eventually support itself.

Spence said the center has about 1,400 memberships and its facilities are used by a number of local organizations.

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