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Merchants happy with Governor's decision

November 26, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Downtown Hagerstown merchants are pleased with the prospect of a state university center opening within a block of Public Square at the Baldwin House complex on West Washington Street.

Once the center opens, which could be in 2002, there will be more people walking around downtown, and the vacant and deteriorating Baldwin House complex will have been renovated or torn down and replaced - both pluses for downtown businesses, merchants interviewed Friday said.

"We are ecstatic," said Teresa Hutchens, manager at Round the Square, a sandwich and coffee shop on Public Square.

"I think it will help with the revitalization of downtown."

City Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein, manager of the Jeweler's Daughter which is also on the square, said, "As a merchant I'm delighted that we're going to have a vacant and nonutilized building rehabbed and producing foot traffic and bringing people downtown."

Saum-Wicklein and several other downtown merchants predicted many businesses would stay open later once the university center opens.

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But some business owners said although they were happy with the governor's choice, if the decision had been up to them they probably would have chosen another site for the university center.

The other two sites Gov. Parris N. Glendening considered were at Hagerstown Community College and at Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park site off Interstate 70.

Glendening's decision, announced Wednesday morning, was based on several factors, including a desire to conform to the governor's Smart Growth guidelines and a cost comparison, spokesman Michael Morrill said. The other two sites were inferior in both respects, he said.

The downtown site is expected to cost $11.7 million, compared to $12.6 million for the interstate site, and approximately $16 million to $26 million more for the HCC site, he said.

Cheryl Kenney, part-owner of Roccoco restaurant, just a few doors from the Baldwin House, said, "Obviously I'm thrilled from a business perspective. ... But as a citizen, I probably would have chosen the (community) college (site), where there would be sharing of facilities like the library and the gym. ... But since I'm not just a concerned citizen, I like the way it evolved."

"Anything's better than an empty building," said Jeanette Ebersole, owner of Flowers by Jeanette.

But Ebersole, whose shop is across the street from the Baldwin House, said she thought the community college site probably would have been better because of concerns about adequate parking downtown.

Ebersole, who's been in business for 23 years, said she thinks there's ample parking in the area. However, she's often heard customers complain there isn't enough.

Carol Moller of Carol & Co., which is also across Washington Street from the Baldwin House, said she thinks the land off Interstate 70 would have been the best place for a university center.

"I'm very happy to have the building restored," Moller said. "But I would rather have seen the Board of Education go in there."

Moller said parking and easy access from the interstates are factors that make the interstate site better.

"But I am pleased they're coming downtown."

Others think the governor made the right decision.

"I think it's wonderful," said Pam Reed, owner of The Book Store Etc., also across the street from the Baldwin House.

Reed said the downtown site was the best location for a university center because it is easy to get to, especially for people who depend upon public transportation.

"I applaud Glendening's decision," Reed said. "He preached Smart Growth in the campaign and this is following through with that. This is one more step to revitalize downtown."

Reed said she hopes the center will draw more businesses downtown and give existing downtown merchants a reason to stay open later.

"We close at 5 (p.m.) now. But give us a reason to stay open and we'll stay open," Reed said.

Currently, the university center is expected to have mostly night classes for third- and fourth-year undergraduate students.

Bob Blackburn, who has worked at Rocky's New York Pizza on the square for about 12 years, said, "I think it'll be great. ... The downtown's been kind of empty and this was a great choice. Not only for our business, but for the other businesses too."

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