City OKs bank's plan for key site Farmers Supply property to be redeveloped

'It is a great proposal'

Offices and stores would be added at downtown corner

December 18, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A development plan by Carroll County Bank and Trust Co. for a critical downtown Westminster property was approved last night by city officials and the new nonprofit Westminster Town Center Corp.

The bank's proposal for the old Farmers Supply Co. property would move its operations center to new office buildings on the site, along with the corporate headquarters of its parent company, Mason-Dixon Bankshares Inc.

The plan features brick retail and office buildings, a parking structure with 210 off-street spaces -- and the rehabilitation of a historic stone building on the site at Liberty and Green streets.

"We're very excited about this project and excited about the prospect of working with the city of Westminster," said Michael Oster, executive vice president and chief operating officer.

"Carroll County Bank will enjoy more operating efficiency," he said, with its Main Street building close by. The new complex would include a two-story office building and parking facility, a five-story retail and office tower, and a courtyard tied to the renovated stone building.

"It is a great proposal. I couldn't be happier about it," said Councilman Gregory Pecoraro, chairman of the finance committee. "We are going to get exactly the kind of use I hoped we could get."

City officials, community leaders and a 1994 report by consultants HyettPalma all have labeled the Farmers Supply property one of four key pieces in the future of downtown Westminster.

After years of frustration at finding a suitable buyer, the city took a nonbinding option on the site and entered into a first-of-its-kind venture to find a partner to develop the property. That option expires in June.

And the nonprofit Westminster Town Center Corp. was formed to help.

Minutes before the special session of the City Council, the plan was endorsed in principle by the Town Center Corp., said Jacob M. Yingling, president of the seven-member board, which includes four community members and three city officials.

"We hope we will have a part in moving your proposal forward," Yingling told the bank officials. "There are lots of challenges ahead."

Under the proposal, the bank would keep its own headquarters and offices in its building at 45 W. Main St., said Marcus Lee Primm, senior vice president. Mason-Dixon would move its headquarters from there into the new building, along with 81 employees from the bank's facility at 200 Baltimore Blvd. (Route 140 at Englar Road), which will probably be sold.

"We are very committed," he said of the plan. Having a new facility "diagonally down the alley from us is very convenient."

The number of employees in the 19,000-square-foot operating center is expected to increase to about 100, Primm said. The bank could eventually fill much of the new space, but for the first decade, it probably would be leasing office space -- about 16,500 square feet.

He said no construction cost estimates were available last night -- and much depends upon what kinds of problems might be encountered.

"We'll continue now to the next step: geo-studies, the actual configuration, traffic flows," Primm said. "What we do know is that it is going to be generally like this: all-brick buildings, compatible with the renovated stone building."

The stone building on the Farmers Supply Co. property is believed to date from the 1880s, when it was part of the old B. F. Shriver Canning Co. complex. The city and corporation officials for the past year have envisioned a mix of shops, offices and housing that would preserve the old stone building, if possible.

"When I first was elected to the council," Pecoraro recalled, "we had just gotten the HyettPalma report, and we thought we should act on it."

At that time, there was a proposal for a gasoline station and food market, he said. "A lot of people said, 'You're never going to get anything [better] on that site.' "

"We are a growing town, but we need something to bring people downtown -- not just to stop and get gas on the way out of town.

Although the city received only one formal application to develop the Farmers Supply property, it was widely described as being what officials wanted. The proposal had been under wraps since the Dec. 3 deadline for applications.

Once the development plan is ready, the city can seek money from the state, including up to $500,000 from the Neighborhood Business Development Program, up to $40,000 from the Maryland Historic Trust, and community development block grants, they said.

"We're looking forward, as Mr. Yingling said, to the challenges ahead," Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said after the unanimous council vote. "We expect there will be many rewards for both the bank and the city.

"This is the best we could have possibly imagined for that site," he said, "bringing an additional 80 to 100 employees downtown, additional retail space, a facility with additional parking space -- and keeping the stone building."

"This is a great day," said Council President Edward S. Calwell.

"A year from now, there's going to be some very exciting stuff happening on Main Street," Pecoraro predicted.

Pub Date: 12/18/96

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