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Museum 'D-Day' approaches

June 22, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

The spokesman for a group that hopes to win Smithsonian Institution affiliation for a Civil War museum it wants to open in the Baldwin House Complex says a July 13 joint meeting between the City Council and the Washington County Commissioners is "D-Day."

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"The team is in place. We are at the starting line. We are simply waiting for the city and county to drop the green flag," said Dennis E. Frye, spokesman for the Antietam Creek Coalition, a nonprofit group developing and designing the museum.

Coalition members have worked on the project for 15 months and hope that at the meeting they will either get direction to proceed or to abandon the project, Frye said.

Frye said he would like the Hagerstown City Council and the Washington County Commissioners to sign a cooperative agreement with the coalition at the meeting.

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The coalition is asking the two governmental bodies to give them a total of $100,000 in seed money for the museum.

Washington County Commissioner John L. Schnebly said he supports the concept of the county and city splitting that cost but he wants to know where that money will come from.

County Administrator Rodney Shoop said there is $250,000 in the fiscal 2000 county budget for city-county cooperative efforts. The fiscal year begins July 1.

The city and county may hold an open joint meeting to discuss the project next week, Shoop said.

Shoop and Schnebly met with Frye about the project on Monday.

"He conveyed to us there was a sense of urgency to moving forward with the study," Shoop said.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said that the council has discussed the museum plan in closed session. He would not say whether he would vote to give the museum seed money.

He also would not say whether the city-owned Baldwin House Complex at 32-46 W. Washington St. would be offered to the museum group at no charge.

The city had offered to donate the site for the University System of Maryland, Hagerstown Center, but last week a steering committee again endorsed putting the center at Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park.

Frye said the Baldwin complex is the museum's preferred site despite recent comments by University System officials that the building would need major renovations before it could be used.

The coalition needs the $100,000 seed money so it can file an application to become part of the Smithsonian's Affiliations Program, he said.

If the coalition gains Smithsonian affiliation, it wants to borrow for the museum artifacts relating to the Civil War and historical developments leading up to the war, Frye said.

It will take from 30 to 90 days to complete the application, Frye said.

Frye said the study will address a number of questions about the project, including:

- Financing. The museum will go to Wall Street and seek low-interest tax-exempt bonds, which he said is a typical funding mechanism for museums.

- Traffic analysis. Examine if the use of the downtown site would pose parking or traffic flow problems.

- Project cost. He said it is too early and there are many variables to estimate the cost.

- Financing. The coalition, which is working with the McGorrisk Group, a for-profit Austin, Texas, firm, will seek a low-interest tax-exempt bond to pay for some costs, he said.

- Security. Prove that any Smithsonian items borrowed for the museum would be secure.

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