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Editorial - Joining forces downtown

December 16, 1997

Over the objections of a downtown businessman and the strong doubts of some of its own members, the Martinsburg, W.Va. City Council last week voted 4-3 to rejoin the state's Main Street program for downtown revitalization.

We realize council members felt they had to act, but after encouraging merchants to organize their own independent group and suggesting that the Main Street approach was about to be abandoned, they've ensured that the next director's first job will be overcoming the ill feelings this action has caused.

That said, we do understand the pressure the council faces to protect downtown's tax base and the progress that's been made in recent years. One of the city's key tourist attractions, the Blue Ridge Outlet Mall, will face strong competition when Prime Retail opens its 100-store outlet village near Hagerstown in mid-1998.

The council also faced questions about what to do with the B&O roundhouse, an historic property which some have suggested could be turned into a civic center. Councilman Glenville Twigg estimates the project could cost $16 million, however. Before committing that kind of money, the city would naturally want someone on board with the expertise to analyze whether the project is a practical tie-in with everything else going on downtown.

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To mend fences with those who wanted to go it alone, we recommend that the city council include a group of merchants on the search committee for the new Main Street director, and on any group which puts together a work program for that person.

The truth is that the right director, one who listens carefully to the concerns of those doing business downtown, can benefit the area by keeping communications open between government and the private sector and by pitching in when volunteers get busy with their own businesses. There is a way to work together for the common good, if each side will consider the possibility that a hybrid of public and private might be better than either group working alone.

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