Council boosts Farmers project Downtown site seen as key to revitalization

December 10, 1997|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The Westminster Common Council has taken big steps toward the development of the long-vacant Farmers Supply Co. property into a $4 million to $6 million complex of office and retail space -- a cornerstone of downtown revitalization.

Work could begin early next year, with demolition of all structures but a historic stone building, and the complex could be occupied by the end of 1999, said Thomas B. Beyard, director of planning and public works. The one-acre site is at Liberty and Green streets, a block off Main Street.

Carroll County Bank & Trust Co. plans to use most of the site for offices and 210 parking spaces in a three-level structure.

In an agreement with the city, the bank is to repay the city for buying and clearing the site.

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan, who has called the development "the most important project in 20 years," was enthusiastic Monday night after a series of council votes that will allow work to begin.

The council voted to:

Exercise its option to buy the $500,000 property. The option was to expire Dec. 31.

Enter the development agreement with the bank, which would obligate the bank to buy the site from the city and reimburse the city's costs.

Begin improvements at the site, including the demolition of four buildings.

Seek up to $1 million in the tax-exempt bond market for the dTC parking structure.

The buildings had stood vacant for seven years until the city, despairing of finding a suitable developer, took a nonbinding option on the site and formed the nonprofit Westminster Town Center Corp. to solicit proposals.

It then accepted the plan by Carroll County Bank & Trust Co.

Unveiled last December, the bank's proposal includes a five-story retail and office tower, a two-story office building on the parking deck and a courtyard connecting to the renovated stone building.

The bank will donate the stone building to Westminster Town Center Corp., Beyard said.

City officials, activists and a consultant report in 1994 called the site "key" to a vital downtown.

"This is a big step that began with the HyettPalma report and rezoning the central business district and taking the option contract," said Councilman Gregory Pecoraro, who serves on the finance committee. "Sometimes we felt like we were never going to get there.

"For a relatively small investment, we will make a multimillion-dollar development happen in downtown Westminster. That one site is so big and so important that it is going to anchor downtown for at least a generation to come."

The bank plans to use the new office space for its operations center and possibly as the headquarters of its corporate parent, Mason-Dixon Bankshares Inc. Other space would be available for shops or restaurants.

The original plan did not call for the city to buy the property, but that turned out to be a better approach. As a municipality, the city was able to secure federal block-grant money designated to eliminate blight, Beyard said.

It will cost about $650,000 to acquire the property and to demolish the buildings, with the $300,000 community development block grant and money from the Maryland Historical Trust for a survey, he said. The money would come from unappropriated surplus funds.

Beyard said the city will sell parking permits at $30 a month, with a yearly maintenance fee of $41.66 per space to be paid by the bank. The bank has expressed interest in taking about 150 of the 210 permits.

"This project was planned to stand on its own," Beyard said. "The debt we acquire will be balanced by the fees generated by the use of the facility, so that rather than the taxpayers paying the bill, the users will. Our plan was not to make money off of it."

He said the concept probably will be used for important vacant properties that -- unlike the Main Street post office or fire hall -- do not attract developers.

"I think this whole concept of marketing key properties -- we've learned a lot from this, and I think we'll do it again," Beyard said. "The city only got involved as a last resort."

Pub Date: 12/10/97

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