Westminster plan to buy armory on hold Lease calls for $190,000 price to purchase it

December 24, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Westminster's plan to buy or extend its lease on the former National Guard Armory on Longwell Avenue is on hold while a state agency investigates the difference between the $190,000 price established in the lease and the $100 or so that city officials want to pay for it.

Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said yesterday he would consider "$100 or less" an acceptable price.

The mayor asked state officials about six months ago to consider selling the building "at a nominal fee." The city wants to renovate the building, but City Council members are reluctant to make a substantial investment in a building the city doesn't own.

Mayor Brown asked, alternatively, for a long-term extension of the current lease, which is scheduled to expire in 2005. He said he believes a 25-year extension would be adequate to justify renovations for government offices the city would put there.

The building houses the city police department, and part of it used for recreation programs.

Westminster now pays the state $1 a year to lease the building, which city officials renamed the Longwell Municipal Center.

State planning officials recommended selling the armory to Westminster "for a nominal fee" in late September, but pulled that suggestion back for a second look when the agency learned that a clause in the existing lease gave Westminster the option to buy the building for its 1980 appraised value, $190,000.

"At the time that recommendation was issued, we were not provided with information on the existing lease," Mary J. Abrams, chief of the State Clearinghouse for Intergovernmental Assistance, part of the state planning office, said yesterday.

Ms. Abrams said the rescission of the original recommendation doesn't mean the state agency won't come back with a similar one.

"In the light of the state's fiscal condition, we felt it would be responsible to re-examine [the proposed sale]," she said.

Ms. Abrams said she doesn't know when her office will forward a new recommendation to the state Department of General Services, which must review it before the Board of Public Works makes the final decision.

But any agreement is likely to contain a clause barring the city from altering the building's appearance, which the Maryland Historical Trust said "exhibits a medieval architectural style." The trust said the building is significant for its association with the expansion of the National Guard early in this century.

Mayor Brown said if the state sticks with the $190,000 price tag, Westminster would defer buying the building until the last year of the lease. It would be in the city's interest to pay in 2005 dollars, which are likely to be worth less than 1980 dollars or 1992 dollars, he explained.

The state clearinghouse staff is reviewing previous sales of old armories to other Maryland towns, Ms. Abrams said, and also will consider the purposes for which Westminster wants to use the building and the planned capital investment.

"We're looking at how we handled the situation to make sure we handle it evenly and fairly," Ms. Abrams said. "For example, if we recommend giving it [the building] to Westminster with no fee, are there other towns and cities with an equally compelling need?"

Westminster plans to spend nearly $350,000 to renovate the building, $250,000 that has already been budgeted and $98,000 scheduled to go in the 1993-1994 budget.

City Planning and Public Works Director Thomas B. Beyard said priorities are to remove underground gasoline storage tanks, install a new,energy-efficient heating system and remove asbestos, which he said might cost $30,000 to $40,000.

Additional renovations would be needed for the government offices and to make the building accessible to the disabled, officials said.

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