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Downtown arts district proposed

March 20, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

A group of Hagerstown business leaders wants to keep future taverns and liquor stores out of the downtown area and bring wealthier residents and the Washington County Board of Education's central office to the district.

Proposals in a revitalization plan developed by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce include adding parking, widening sidewalks, bringing in a first-run movie theater, redirecting truck traffic and studying whether to make South Potomac Street a two-way street.

The plan also recommended creating a new zoning designation for the area that would:

- Prohibit new liquor stores, adult bookstores and taverns that do not include full-time, full-service restaurants.

- Bring the Washington County Board of Education central offices downtown.

- Encourage middle- and upper-income people to live downtown.

The goal is to attract more people downtown by making the area more of a leisure-time destination, said Charles Sekula, a member of the chamber committee that put together the proposal and owner of the Schmankerl Stube restaurant, which is inside the proposed district.

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"The City of Hagerstown is the county seat, and if we do not concentrate on the core first, nothing will happen on the outskirts. If the core of an apple is not well, then the rest of the apple is not well. This will be good for the downtown and good for the whole area," Sekula said.

The City Council could examine whether to change the zoning regulations within the next few months.

Any change in zoning regulations would not apply to existing businesses in the proposed district, City Planner Kathy Maher said.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said he supported making such a change.

There are no plans to move the Board of Education central offices from their present location on Commonwealth Avenue.

"It's not even in our five-year plan," said County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

The chamber plan outlined strategies for making the downtown's proposed Arts & Entertainment District a cultural, dining and entertainment center for the city. The district would be an area around the Public Square, extending one block in each direction on Potomac Street and about half a block in each direction on Washington Street. City Hall, the Maryland Theatre and the Washington County Free Library are within the proposed district.

The chamber's plan was presented Tuesday during a joint meeting between the County Commissioners and City Council.

Chamber representatives asked that the political bodies support the plan and assist with funding a more detailed development plan.

The more detailed plan would take the recommended physical improvements and develop a concept drawing of the area, Maher said.

Members from both bodies said that overall they favored the plan.

The commissioners voted unanimously to have county officials apply for a $25,000 grant to help pay for detailed concept drawings, which are expected to cost about $50,000.

City Council members said they favored the overall plan. The city has about $8,000 set aside in the current year's budget for such a project, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.

Additional funding is expected to come from private contributions.

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