Army plans houses at base

$3 billion project to replace 2,600 run-down units

`Distinct' theme promised

Partnership granted contract in new, privatized approach

Fort Meade

March 07, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The Army announced yesterday a $3 billion contract to privatize housing at Fort Meade, a move that will eliminate more than 2,600 run-down housing units and replace them with a community of single-family homes.

The Army promised its new development would have a "distinct architectural theme," which would include "modern interior layouts ... lots of closet space ... and first-rate appliances." The Army also is aiming for the interiors to be color-coordinated, it said in its press release yesterday.

Housing at the base has been considered substandard for some time - yesterday a contractor there was removing asbestos from one unoccupied unit-and the Army has long sought a solution.

Ray Clark, acting assistant secretary of the Army for Installations and the Environment, called the announcement "a step toward meeting our obligation to provide livable communities and decent quality of life for our soldiers and their families."

The Army awarded the contract to MC Partners LLC, a four-pronged partnership created for the project whose name stands for "Meade" and "Community." It includes Picerne Real Estate Group of Warwick, R.I., and IT Group, based in Pittsburgh. CIT Group, based in New York City, and Newman and Associates, a Denver-based subsidiary of GMAC Commercial Holding Corp, will be providing the financing for the project.

The partners received word they had won out over 16 other bidders for the project late yesterday. Initially, hundreds of developers had expressed interest, but many declined to bid because the size and scope of the project would overwhelm their firms.

The project is the largest for Picerne, and its first in Maryland.

"We were up against some very steep competition," said John Picerne, the company's executive vice president and regional director. "I told my staff, it's like the Red Sox beating the Yankees in the pennant, then going on to beat the Dodgers in the World Series."

More hiring planned

Picerne estimates the project will bring $400 million in construction business to Anne Arundel County. His office plans to move about 30 employees to Maryland, and hire about 70 more over the next 10 years.

The Army's announcement caps a nearly two-year search for a developer with the construction acumen and the facility management skills to overhaul Fort Meade's housing. Of the base's nearly 2,900 units, about 90 percent are substandard, according to Army statistics. Even the inadequate houses have long waiting lists, because the Army's monthly stipend cannot cover outside rents.

To eradicate substandard military housing nationwide, Congress passed the Army's Residential Communities Initiative in 1996, which allowed the Army to privatize its base housing. Fort Meade is one of four pilot sites for the program, the others being Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Hood, Texas; and Fort Carson, Colo.

Project delayed

Developers had been picked for the other projects, but Fort Meade's was delayed several months because one bidder there filed a formal complaint with the General Accounting Office alleging improprieties in the selection process. The GAO denied the protest, but only after it spent three months investigating it.

Under the RCI program, the Army will lease land at Fort Meade to MC Partners, which will design, build and manage the units and the grounds.

Companies pair up

Picerne, a private company, owns and manages 20,000 residential units nationwide and in Puerto Rico. IT Group, a publicly traded company, is best known for environmental remediation work. Both companies, founded a year apart from each other in the 1920s, have paired up on other government housing initiatives in the Northeast, spokesmen for the companies said.

MC Partners will be working with the Army over the next six months to develop the blueprint for Fort Meade's new residential community. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2002.

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