The space could have continued in its boarded-up status for another year if it weren’t for two new incentive programs that Washington County approved in recent months, said Asad Ghattas, who owns Fountainhead Plaza north of Hagerstown.
Those incentive programs are for the creation of “pad-ready” sites for commercial and industrial uses and a tax credit for high performance or “green” commercial buildings, said Ghattas, who also is president and owner of Ghattas Enterprises, the real estate development company handling the project.
Even though Ghattas doesn’t yet have a tenant for the future office building, referred to as Fountainhead One, the project still benefits the county, said Timothy R, Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.
The county will benefit from the additional real estate tax revenue on the increased assessed value of the building, and the commission will have a high-quality office building to show to potential clients looking for space in the Tri-State or mid-Atlantic area, Troxell said.
The pad-ready program expedites aspects of the county’s planning and review process, and defers and waives some costs. The high performance tax credit program provides property tax credits for buildings that meet certain “green” standards.
“It’s not a cheap investment, as you can imagine,” Ghattas said. Any incentive helps speeds up the process, he said.
The project at Fountainhead Plaza includes renovating space elsewhere in the shopping center for a fitness center and barbershop that had been using part of the former supermarket space, Ghattas said. Those renovations; the demolition of the supermarket building — there still is some to be razed; the construction of the new office building; and some other improvements at the shopping center will cost an estimated $12 million, Ghattas said.
The Washington County Commissioners established the “pad-ready” stimulus program last October.
Originally proposed by the Economic Development Commission to improve the county’s chances of attracting new jobs and investment to the area, Commissioners President Terry Baker suggested last fall that the pad-ready program include sites where a building demolition creates a pad-ready site. That enabled Ghattas to submit the Fountainhead project for the stimulus program.
A site typically is considered pad-ready when the utilities are in place, the grading is completed and final engineering for the building pad is finished so the site is ready for building construction.
“The rationale was, if we want to be competitive, if there’s a client riding along I-81 looking to locate a new facility and looking for a pad-ready site in competing jurisdictions and we don’t have any, we’re probably going to lose out on the project,” Troxell said.
EDC officials hope the pad-ready stimulus program will give developers incentive to get some sites ready for construction, which would make the sites more attractive to buyers or clients, Troxell said.
Approved projects for the pad-ready stimulus program will receive the following considerations:
- Priority review by Washington County’s Development Advisory Committee.
- Deferment of all county review and application fees associated with obtaining site-plan approval until a building permit application is submitted, or the “sunset” date of the program, whichever comes first. It is a three-year program.
- Waiver of all county renewal fees for maintaining validity of the approved site plan.
- Minor changes to the site plan, such as a reduction in the building footprint, can be approved by planning officials at the time of building permit application, rather than having to go before the planning commission.
- A real estate tax credit of four-tenths of 1 percent of construction costs for a three-year period upon completion. (Properties in an enterprise zone are not eligible.)