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Sager pushing downtown campus

May 24, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

Former Hagerstown Mayor Steven T. Sager is lobbying state agency heads and administrators to put a university campus in what he calls a "big and ugly" city-owned downtown building.

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Sager, a Maryland state employee, developed the city proposal to offer the Baldwin House Complex as a free site for the University of Maryland, Hagerstown campus.

Hagerstown City Council agreed during a May 18 closed meeting to make the offer.

Sager said he has long wanted to do something with the 60,000-square-foot city-owned complex at 32-46 W. Washington St.

"It's big and ugly and something has to happen," Sager said Monday.

Wayne E. Alter Jr., a Hagerstown businessman who is on a steering committee that picked the site for the proposed satellite campus, questioned the quality of the city's proposal.

Alter pledged $100,000 to the college April 29 and challenged other businesses to do the same.

"If Hagerstown is genuinely interested in helping us find the best site then I welcome the input," he said Monday. He said he has no problem with his money going to the city site if that is the best location.

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However, if the city wants to "unload a difficult, challenging piece of property onto the University System of Maryland" then he would object, he said. He said he is concerned the city offer could limit the potential of the campus.

Since February the Washington County Commissioners and University System officials have been planning to build a one-building campus on a donated 20-acre site at Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park, about five miles from downtown Hagerstown. Estimated cost of the project is $12 million.

The Allegheny Power site was recommended by a Washington County steering committee consisting of business and government leaders. Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he is still mad he was not part of the steering committee until its final meeting.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook Monday officially asked the steering committee to reconvene to decide if the city offer is better than the Allegheny Power one. Snook said he hopes the committee can hear a presentation of the city proposal within two weeks.

Bruchey said he thinks Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening should decide which site is better.

Sager said renovating the Baldwin House site would be $4.5 million to $7.6 million cheaper than constructing a new building at the Allegheny Power site.

Sager said he is working on this project as a private citizen, a former mayor and as a state employee but the work is being done on paid state time. Sager was mayor from 1985 to 1997 and Hagerstown's Community Development planner/supervisor from 1975-1982.

Sager is the Western Maryland community manager for the Department of Housing and Community Development. His job involves promoting projects such as the campus offer, he said.

The downtown site fully meets the intent and goals of the Smart Growth Act, unlike the current county plan, Sager and Bruchey said.

Sager focused on the Smart Growth question in his most recent letter, faxed at 1:34 a.m. Monday to administrators in the Office of Planning and the Governor's office, among others.

Lobbying them is part of his job, he said. He is not the one making the final determination, he added.

"I am just a foot soldier, a knowledgeable, passionate foot soldier," he said.

While faxes also have been sent to the governor's office, Glendening has not been briefed on the issue, a spokeswoman said Monday.

The Smart Growth question was mentioned in an April 30 memorandum from Maryland Office of Planning Deputy Director Ron Young. He said the Allegheny Power site meets the requirements of the state act but does not meet "the full intent" of a January 1998 executive order issued by Glendening.

His opinion does not have any implications for state funding for the project, said Young, a former mayor of Frederick, Md.

Sager and Young are friends but Sager said he couldn't say if that relationship plays a role in how much his letters might affect Young's opinions. While he has talked to Young about the project, those conversations came after the memo was written, Sager said.

Young could not be reached for comment Monday.

The steering committee did not look at the downtown site before because it wanted the campus to be built on a 20-acre site.

At that time, Sager said he was "stewing in my juices" because the downtown site wasn't offered.

What sparked him to develop the Baldwin Park offer was learning late last month that the Frostburg State University Center would pare back operations at its downtown location, Sager said.

"Frostburg pushed me over the line," he said.

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