Frederick company shows interest in HRDC building

The Allegany County Human Resources Development Commission’s headquarters at Frederick and Liberty streets is the “gateway” to Cumberland’s Town Centre.

To John Laughlin, Cumberland seems like the “next logical place to be” and he predicts that his company will be here within a year, one way or another.

Laughlin, founder of Ridgecrest Investments Inc., an equity investment firm based in Frederick, has sent city officials a letter of interest in the Allegany County Human Resources Development Commission’s building on Frederick Street, which is expected to be vacant in December 2009.

One of the company’s areas is to invest in commercial real estate near a small city’s central business district and near City Hall.

With property in counties east and west of the city, Cumberland, he said, “was the missing middle.”

Ridgecrest’s area headquarters would serve as the home to four businesses located in Hagerstown. From there, additional buildings would be purchased, creating even more jobs.

Laughlin’s interest was enough to spark discussion Tuesday on the city’s plans for the building once HRDC relocates to a new facility at 125 Virginia Ave. The city-owned parking lot there was declared surplus property and then deeded to HRDC.

City Administrator Jeff Repp said while HRDC is not expected to move until late 2009, that doesn’t mean city officials can’t seek a request for proposals. Any new owner, however, would be bound by the current tenant’s lease.

Mayor Lee Fiedler said he believes it’s time to “put together a process” that would include such items as the building’s value to what officials want to see happen at the “gateway” to the city’s Town Centre. The ornate structure, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, originally served as a federal court house and post office and later housed the Cumberland Police Department.

“I don’t believe it’s too early,” he said. “Several people have shown interest and we need to put together a pretty detailed package.”

Councilman Butch Hendershot asked if council should include whether the facility will be offered to tax-generating companies only or “should we throw the net out there and see what happens?” At the same time, he said Laughlin’s proposal, “sounded optimistic.”

Councilwoman Mary Beth Pirolozzi said the process would be fair only if everyone had the opportunity to respond.

Repp said the request for proposals for the Western Maryland Health System’s Memorial campus designed by the EADS Group, an architectural firm with an office in Cumberland, will be used as the “framework for this one.” Memorial will be vacant when the new WMHS Regional Medical Center opens on Willowbrook Road in fall 2009.

He also said the proposal for the HRDC site will include the 10-year value and the estimated tax value.

“The highest and best use is what we’re looking for, not who has the most money to buy it,” Repp said.

Councilman Ed Hedrick agreed and said the city should seek the “highest and best package for the taxpayers.”

The building was appraised in 2005 at a little more than $700,000, so another appraisal will be sought.

Laughlin, who has been looking in the Cumberland area for nearly a year, said he’s ready to participate actively in any process the city chooses.

He said he’d be happy to purchase the building now, to lease space to HRDC and to find enough office space for Ridgecrest, which would be a taxable entity, to set up shop.

“We need to find building No. 1 so we’re there permanently,” Laughlin said, while calling 19 Frederick St. a gorgeous building.

He said other buildings are on the radar screen. Dan Nye serves as Ridgecrest’s representative in Cumberland and is in town twice a week.

For more information on Ridgecrest, visit www.ridgecrestinvestments.com.

Contact Maria Smith at msmith@times-news.com.

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