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Editorial - The Baldwin - What now?

February 13, 1998

Hagerstown's Baldwin House, once home to Routzahn's Department Store, is now a rotting hulk in the middle of downtown, an eyesore that it would cost $1 million just to demolish and perhaps 10 times that much to renovate for useable office or living space. Faced with a set of unattractive and expensive choices, we urge the Mayor and Council not to do anything hasty.

One idea being proposed is the relocation of Hagerstown police and fire agencies to the building, on the premise that it would be easier to sell the historic train station where police are located now, and use that money for Baldwin House renovations.

However, the city would need to find another 100 parking places downtown for police. And the fire department, originally moved into the City Market House to provide security for the adjacent parking lot and to keep the building from being vacant between Saturday market sessions, likes its present location.

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Police Chief Dale Jones would like more space, but is this really the time for a department that's undergoing a major transition with its crime impact team and the "Hot Spots" program to take on the challenge of renovating an old building into a new police station? And given the fact that the department is racking up record amounts of overtime, can the city really afford to trade a known quantity (the operating expenses involved in the old station) for the unknown cost of operating a new one?

Another point: The police station's present location on Burhans Boulevard, at the crossroads of U.S. 40, provides easy access to all sections of the city. Will city cruisers be on their way as quickly if they have to fight their way through downtown traffic jams?

In previous editorials, we have pushed for more upscale housing downtown, and architect Kurt Cushwa's plan to renovate the Baldwin House for that purpose didn't fail because it was a bad idea, but because the developer couldn't find financing. We suggest someone ask Gov. Parris Glendening if he's serious enough about his "Smart Growth" plan to redevelop older urban areas to help with financing for this project.

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