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County approves funds for museum study

August 10, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to contribute $37,500 toward a study of a Civil War museum for Hagerstown.

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The county funds will be combined with $37,500 from the City of Hagerstown to pay for a feasibility study to be completed by the members of the nonprofit group the Antietam Creek Coalition, Inc.

Coalition member Dennis E. Frye said the study probably will be completed by early December.

The study is expected to look at exactly where a Civil War museum should go, how much it may cost, and how it would be funded. The study also is expected to be used as an application for affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution, and to attract investors to the project.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook, Paul L. Swartz and John L. Schnebly voted in favor of spending $37,500 on the study.

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"I'm a gambler," Swartz said. "And this would be a great project."

"I'm willing to invest to find out whether any other money is there," said Schnebly, who was referring to questions about the availability of state grants or large private donations that are expected to be addressed in the study.

"The $37,500 is a small investment to try to help the City of Hagerstown right now," Snook said.

Commissioners Bert L. Iseminger Jr. and William J. Wivell voted against spending money on the study.

Iseminger questioned many aspects of the proposal including whether a study is needed to find out how much state grant money or large private contributions might be available, and if the governments should consider letting other companies bid on the museum project.

So far the coalition, which proposed the museum to the city and county, is the only private group involved in negotiations.

"If they can't raise a couple hundred thousand dollars to do a study then how are they going to raise $18 million?" Iseminger asked.

He was referring to a report on the museum proposal presented to the commissioners and council members before the vote. The 31-page report did not make any recommendations, but did compile some preliminary cost estimates.

The report projected that $30 million would be needed to build and stock a 60,000-square-foot museum that would have 300,000 visitors a year paying $8 each to get in.

Based on those figures, the report concluded that the museum could afford to pay off $12.6 million in debt, meaning the project would need $17.4 million in grants and large contributions to be economically feasible.

The members of the committee that put together the report included: Tim Troxell with the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission; Hagerstown Economic Development Coordinator Debbie Everhart; Hagerstown Planner Kathy Maher; Ben Hart with the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Merle Elliott with the Hagerstown/Washington County Industrial Foundation.

After the commissioners' vote, which was taken during a joint meeting with the commissioners and the Hagerstown City Council, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II asked Iseminger: "Does the county have priorities that include the city?"

Iseminger replied that the city was a priority for the commissioners, citing a $250,000 set-aside for downtown Hagerstown-related projects.

The county's $37,500 for the study is expected to come from that account.

"I applaud the commissioners for their vision and their willingness to commit to a project that can completely transform downtown Hagerstown," said Frye, who represented the Antietam Creek Coalition at Tuesday's meeting.

When asked about the cost estimates presented in the report Tuesday and whether the group could raise more than $17 million for the project, Frye said "Numbers are numbers right now. Our job is to get good numbers."

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