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A lure for homeowners

October 29, 1998

Congratulations to Hagerstown's Mayor and Council for this week's decision to move forward with the development of the old fairgrounds property. The mix of uses they've approved - including softball, soccer and BMX racing - should provide year-round recreational opportunities for city residents.

But the fairgrounds project has the potential to do more than give youth sports participants some extra places to play. Properly managed, it could spark a revival of the city's East End, where many privately owned homes have been turned into rental properties over the years.

A 1996 community profile of Hagerstown done by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond found that 60 percent of city families live in rental dwellings, much higher than the 40 percent state average. The higher the percentage of rental units, the less time and money residents are apt to invest in making the city a better place to live.

The following things are needed to make sure the fairgrounds development sparks people to purchase homes in the adjacent neighborhoods:

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- A new infusion of low-interest mortgage money. In April of this year, a $2 million pot of cash provided to the city through Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening's "Smart Growth" initiative had nearly been exhausted. It needs to be replenished, with a special emphasis on East End properties.

- Accelerated development of one of the neighborhood associations envisioned under the city's Neighborhoods First program. First-time homeowners will need all the help they can get.

- Arrangements on the fairgrounds property to ensure 'round-the-clock security. In the past, we've recommended that there be some residential housing there for custodial and security people, so that there'd always be someone on site to prevent the gathering of vandals or other undesirables.

Living near a 60-acre-plus recreation complex should be a plus for any homeowner. Properly marketed, the fairgrounds could be the magnet that attracts a whole new crop of homeowners, to the city's East End and beyond.

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