City breaks ground on renewal

Officials vow to back revival of critical site

March 31, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

In 1998, the last time the city of Westminster held a ceremony to mark the redevelopment of the former Farmers Supply site downtown, Gov. Parris N. Glendening came to praise the city's commitment to fighting sprawl.

The project proposed for the site, a $6 million Carroll County Bank and Trust operations center, was never built because the bank was sold to BB&T.

City officials again donned their hard hats at the site recently for an event to celebrate the building of a four-story, $2.9 million office, retail and residential building called Westminster Square.

Glendening wasn't present for the groundbreaking this time, but the city, state and county officials who were there confirmed their commitment to the project and vowed that it would reach fruition.

"It's real. It's going to happen. I'm certain of it," said Thomas K. Ferguson, a Westminster city councilman and BB&T vice president. In 1999, before he was on the council, Ferguson negotiated an agreement in which his bank gave the city the deed to the site and $2.25 million to help find a new partner to develop it.

"There is considerably more economic development in the works now than there was three or four years ago," he said, noting the Carroll Arts Center on West Main Street, two downtown parking decks and the newly refurbished stone building on Liberty Street, which are in various stages of development.

"What this has created is an atmosphere of confidence in the downtown," he said.

Westminster Square, which is being developed by Tyler-Donegan, will include two levels of office and retail space topped by two floors of condominiums. Eight two- or three-bedroom condos with granite kitchen countertops, ceramic tile, hardwood floors and balconies are planned. A 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom condo in the building will sell for about $188,000, according to Chad Tyler of Tyler-Donegan. The 1-acre lot is at Liberty and Green streets in the heart of downtown.

Westminster Square is next to the 135-year-old stone building owned by Westminster Town Center Corp. that received a $221,000 exterior face lift, including a repainted facade and a new slate roof, last summer. Westminster Town Center Corp., a nonprofit group with the responsibility of implementing some of Westminster's revitalization efforts, has not found a tenant for the stone building, which once housed a barbershop, an antiques store and a restaurant. It has been vacant for years. In addition, the city is about to begin construction on a 163-space parking garage that would adjoin Westminster Square.

The historic post office, the Farmers Supply site, the old firehouse and the old J.C. Penney building were identified in a consultant's report in 1994 as properties whose development would benefit the surrounding area. The Farmers Supply site is the final property to be developed.

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