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Public Square and beyond

September 24, 1998

This week's rededication of Hagerstown's Public Square is as good a time as any to mark the progress that's been made in downtown in recent years, and to consider the steps that need to be taken to continue the revitalization process.

The $507,000 renovation, financed with a combination of state, local and federal dollars, signals the commitment of elected officials and the business community not to allow downtown to deteriorate. At times the pace of progress has seemed slow, but a look back at the past 10 years reveals a substantial list of accomplishments, including:

- the renovation of the northeast corner of Public Square, transformed from an eyesore to a complex that houses everything from the state unemployment office to a children's ballet school, not to mention a blues club and the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites. In addition to sprucing up the city's image, the project also debunked the prevailing wisdom that only the private sector could spark redevelopment.

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- the opening of a group of new restaurants and small shops, drawing people downtown who wouldn't ordinarily visit, and

- the successful effort to keep the Maryland District Court downtown.

This is only a partial list, and naming all those involved would take up all the space on this page. But continuing this process will mean doing several more things.

To start, Councilman Wallace McClure's "Pride and Groom" campaign to spruce up downtown should be embraced by every property owner and business operator. Visitors notice when the streets and sidewalks are clean.

Second, the city needs to look at creating some "destination attractions" like Discovery Station, the proposed interactive science museum for children. The more reasons people have to visit downtown, the more all businesses there will prosper.

And finally, the city has to continue its efforts to upgrade downtown living space. The proposal for a rental inspection program is a good one, because downtown needs a corps of residents - renters and owners - who'll actively support the center city's forward progress.

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