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Public Square project's timing 'unfortunate'

September 12, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Several downtown Hagerstown merchants and pedestrians Thursday afternoon said they didn't think the unsightly reconstruction of Public Square would discourage tourists in town for this weekend's commemoration of the Battle of Antietam's 135th anniversary from returning to the area.

The event includes a parade through downtown this morning.

They also said the mess would be worth the inconvenience and decrease in business once the work is done.

Downtown merchant Thomas Newcomer said several out-of-town visitors had told him the work was a good sign progress was being made downtown.

"It's unfortunate that the square isn't intact for the Civil War re-enactment," said Newcomer, a civic leader instrumental in planned downtown improvements.

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But, there isn't a convenient time to rip up the square, said Newcomer, citing various downtown events such as May Mart and the Western Maryland Blues Fest.

The reconstruction was originally scheduled to begin after the June 6-8 blues fest, but was delayed until Aug. 4 because of red tape over state financing, said Harry Grandinett, a downtown merchant and civic leader.

If the work had begun on time, it could have been done by this weekend, Grandinett said.

Cynthia Shepard, 65, of Forest Drive, said it's a "stinky time" to renovate the square.

The mess of orange fencing, construction barrels and ripped up brickwork could leave a bad impression on tourists in town for this weekend's re-enactments, she said.

Oregon resident Roben Estes, a re-enactor in town for this weekend's events, said the square work wouldn't deter him from returning to the area.

The project includes laying all new brickwork, installing planters and making the southeast quadrant handicap-accessible.

"Anything we can do downtown here to bring back some attractiveness and appeal to the downtown is going to be money well spent," said Home Federal employee Dick Kidd.

Any project that would help fill vacant downtown storefronts is worthwhile, Kidd said.

Washington County resident Jack Grier said it might be better to use the $470,000 being spent on the reconstruction to subsidize businesses to fill those storefronts.

Grier's wife, Audrey, said she wished the city had renovated the square several years ago when downtown started falling into financial troubles.

Crews with Callas Contractors Inc. have done a good job keeping clear paths to businesses along the square and warning merchants of particularly noisy work, merchants said.

Still, the work has negatively impacted some area businesses.

Grandinett said he noticed a slight decrease in business when renovations in the northeast quadrant began, but it hadn't dropped anymore since then.

"I think we'll reap the benefits of this inconvenience many times over in the future," he said.

While business at Rocky's New York Pizza has dropped at least 25 percent, owner Vinnie DiCola said his only concern was how long it would take to finish the renovation. He had heard it wouldn't be done until the end of November.

Project Manager John Moser said the work is expected to be done in time for the Nov. 1 Mummers' Parade. Crews are expected to pour the concrete foundation for the southwest quadrant next week.

Hopefully, this renovation will last longer than the previous one in 1975, Newcomer said.

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