Fire company seeks buyer for building Commissioners decline, citing cost, location among drawbacks

'Caught by surprise'

Department plans marketing effort for landmark property

February 07, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare and Donna Engle | Mary Gail Hare and Donna Engle,Sun Staff

If the Westminster Volunteer Fire Department is to find a buyer for its building on Main Street -- downtown Westminster's signature building -- it will not be county government.

The County Commissioners cited price, location and logistics yesterday in turning down surprised fire department members.

"We need resources from the sale of this building to effect a move to the new location, and we were under the impression that county was quite interested," said Jeff Alexander, chief of the 150-member company. "Their response caught me by surprise."

The department plans to move to new headquarters on John Street and expand. Members had hoped that the county would purchase the century-old building and maintain it as a landmark.

"It just doesn't fit our needs structurally or financially," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell.

The purchase price, which county officials estimated at $700,000 to $1 million, is too steep for a government struggling with a $5 million budget deficit.

"We couldn't begin to buy it," said Commissioner Richard T. Yates. "We have no use for it right now."

The 23,697-square-foot building is not large enough for a long-delayed headquarters for the county school board, and library officials, who also attended the meeting, said the building is unacceptable because there is no parking.

The site has been mentioned as a possible arts center, but renovations could cost as much as $80 a square foot, said Mr. Dell.

"We could build a new building for that money," he said.

Now that its most likely prospect for selling the building has fizzled, the department is making plans to market the building and hoping the buyer will maintain it as a landmark.

The department has outgrown the brick building whose distinctive clock tower has become synonymous with Westminster and its downtown revival.

"This is a key historical point in Westminster," said Mr. Alexander. "We would like to see the purchaser maintain its integrity."

The county also is concerned about keeping the building intact.

"Citizens wouldn't allow someone to buy and demolish it," said Mr. Dell.

After nearly 100 years at 66 E. Main St., "we have a lot of sentimental attachment," said James Bangerd, president of the fire company. "We have put time, money and effort into it and hope the new owner would give it the same care."

With no room to expand and 10 pieces of equipment squeezed into its space, the department made arrangements last year to buy property from Smith and Reifsnider Co., which is closing its store at 28 John St.

"We have to move," said Mr. Bangerd. "Our fire equipment has gotten bigger and is barely fitting through the doors."

The fire department board of directors will meet tonight "to discuss what is on the horizon, and it's not much," said Mr. Bangerd.

The Greater Westminster Development Corp. has offered its help in marketing the site.

"We need to get as much out of it as possible and use the equity to help defer costs of the next purchase," said Mr. Bangerd.

The cost of the new site is estimated at about $1.5 million, he said.

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