Focus of downtown group debated

November 21, 1996


Staff Writer

Hagerstown's Downtown Assessment District (DAD) officials want to go beyond marketing and promoting the downtown business district to helping develop it, according to the group's chairman.

To reflect the change in emphasis, DAD officials want to change the group's name to the Downtown Development Association, Chairman Andy Singer told the mayor and City Council on Tuesday.

DAD wants to be more than a "clowns and balloons" promoter of downtown, Singer said. "We want to do more things, not fewer things."


Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein questioned the name change, saying development isn't part of the group's mission under the ordinance that created DAD.

If DAD's board wants to change the mission, the Council might have to consider eliminating DAD and creating another group, Saum-Wicklein said.

Singer said that the ordinance states DAD is responsible for "development."

But Saum-Wicklein said Wednesday that "development" pertains only to the organization's membership.

"I think the purpose (of DAD) is fairly clear," to promote and market the business district, Saum-Wicklein said.

"The membership is the central business district," Singer said Wednesday.

According to Singer, development could mean:

  • Encouraging developers to find tenants for vacant apartments above stores.
  • Advising downtown merchants and property owners of programs available to help them improve storefronts.
  • Helping people start successful businesses by guiding them to needed resources.

Many businesses don't succeed downtown because they are inadequately prepared to conduct business, said Hugh Snively, DAD's secretary.

That leads to turnover and business failures, leaving the impression that downtown is a "ghost town," Snively said.

In 1995, four businesses in the district closed and six moved out of the district, said Downtown Coordinator Karen Giffin. The district had a net gain of 13 new businesses last year.

Created 12 years ago by City Council, DAD's funding comes from square-footage assessments levied on businesses in the district, roughly the area from Antietam Street to Franklin Street and Jonathan Street to Cramer Alley.

In the last two fiscal years, DAD's annual funding from assessments has been roughly $23,200, said city Finance Director Al Martin.

Singer said board members want to use that funding, as well as sponsorships from businesses and other groups, to improve downtown.

Mayor Steven T. Sager said he plans to arrange a meeting with Saum-Wicklein, Singer and DAD Vice Chairman Tom Newcomer to discuss DAD's focus.

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