Fort Meade's housing a big deal for Arundel

$3 billion development to start in spring 2002

March 08, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The Army's $3 billion contract to privatize housing at Fort Meade is big business for Anne Arundel County.

Bigger than the $250 million to build Arundel Mills, the county's huge new mall.

Bigger than the $1.3 billion to expand Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

So big it's triggering a barrage of superlatives.

"It's definitely the largest development I've heard of," County Executive Janet S. Owens said yesterday.

"It's one of the largest investments in decades," said Bill Badger, president and chief executive officer of Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.

It's so large that MC Partners LLC, the company named Tuesday to develop the project, is a joint venture of four big companies. Construction alone will cost more than $400 million over the next 10 years and include demolition of more than 2,500 housing units.

Its impact will not be just local, but nationwide.

Fort Meade is one of four pilot sites for the Army's Residential Communities Initiative, a privatization program Congress approved in 1996 to eradicate substandard military housing and eliminate housing shortages. Most of Fort Meade's homes were built in the 1950s and 1960s and lack basic amenities, such as master bathrooms and family rooms.

For nearly two years, the Army has been preparing Fort Meade and its 15,000 military families for the construction, scheduled to begin in the spring of next year.

"It's going to be a tremendous project," said Ted Lipham, director for the Residential Communities Initiative.

MC Partners - which stands for Meade Community - consists of 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 subsidiary of GMAC Commercial Holding Corp., will provide financing for the project.

The project is Picerne's largest in 75 years of family operation, a fact not lost on its staff.

"I live in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. It's a town of 18,000. I'm basically building my town all over again," said Chris Bicho, Picerne senior vice president.

Bicho's company will move about 30 employees to Maryland and hire about 70 more over the next 10 years.

More significant will be the increase in IT Group's military construction subsidiary, Beneco Enterprises Inc., which has a small office in Waldorf.

Ali Bitar, the company's general manager for quality control, said all 250 employees at Beneco will work on the project, and he expects more will be hired.

Owens said the development's size, while exciting, is "a little daunting." Her staff has worked with the base during the past eight months on infrastructure issues.

Bicho said he's not flustered by the $3 billion price tag or the work. He's focusing on the $400 million construction investment over the next 10 years. MC Partners will recoup its investment through rental income.

The Army will also pay the company a fee - usually about 4 percent of the entire project's rental income - to manage the properties over the project's 50-year lease.

In the next month, MC Partners will begin developing a construction and design plan.

As that occurs, the housing office at Fort Meade will conduct an environmental assessment of the site. The Army is planning a signing ceremony for the end of the month.

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