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City officials consider action to create more parking

February 13, 1998

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Hagerstown officials said this week they will explore some more radical methods to jump start a downtown that has been plagued by vacant buildings.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the city might need to consider bulldozing some large downtown buildings so others will be more marketable.

The upper floors of many downtown buildings that are vacant could become offices if nearby parking was available for employees, Metzner said.

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Council members William M. Breichner and Alfred W. Boyer also said some old buildings probably should be torn down. Breichner said he's been a proponent of tearing down the Baldwin House complex since the city bought it in 1994.

But, Boyer warns that tactic shouldn't be taken too far.

"If we're not careful we're going to have one big parking lot downtown and nothing there," he said.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said if it costs too much to renovate an entire building, developers should be able to renovate the facade, tear down the back and build an addition.

Officials realize the city owns some of the vacant buildings downtown and more aggressive ways of using and marketing them could be needed.

Vacant city-owned buildings include the Baldwin House complex at 32-46 W. Washington St., the former Tristate Electrical Supply Co. Inc. building at 38 S. Potomac St., and the former Delta Hosiery building at 66-70 W. Washington St.

A proposed deal to sell the Delta Hosiery building to a Kensington, Md., investment firm fell through, said Karen Giffin, the city's public information manager. Investors were trying to package the building with other projects.

The city's sale price for the building, about $150,000, combined with renovation costs has discouraged developers, Giffin said.

So the city will look at lowering the price or including grant funds for renovation, Giffin said.

Bruchey agrees with Metzner that the city should consider relocating the police and fire departments into the Baldwin complex since the South Burhans Boulevard police headquarters building is more marketable.

Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein couldn't be reached for comment.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said everyone wants to leave downtown, citing Keller-Stonebraker Insurance, Wheat First Butcher Singer and the YMCA. Instead of restoring buildings, firms are building new ones on the city's edge, he said.

If this continues, he said the city will end up as a doughnut with a thriving economy on the perimeter and a depressed downtown with decaying buildings.

"These people that are moving out are trying to tell us something. These are movers and shakers," McClure said.

But, McClure said downtown's main problem is not its buildings, but its residents.

People coming downtown have to deal with drunks, people congregating, beer bottles smashed along curbs, and feces and urine on sidewalks, he said.

"It is really getting to people," McClure said.

McClure's vision of downtown is for people to park on the edge by a greenway and walk to retail shops, restaurants, and banks.

People aren't afraid of walking, they're afraid of walking around low-income housing, he said.

Bruchey said getting rid of the residents is not the answer.

Creating stricter standards for liquor licenses would help, Bruchey said. The city needs to meet with the liquor board.

Policing downtown also will help, he said.

McClure said city officials need new ideas. He proposed every elected official and department manager read a newspaper from a similiar-sized city to generate more ideas, including for downtown.

The city could pay for the three-month subscriptions, he said.

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