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Museum backers seek state funds

March 02, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Developers of a proposed national Civil War museum in Hagerstown have asked Gov. Parris Glendening to add $450,000 to next year's state budget to help with planning.

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"This project has been met with enthusiasm, deep levels of interest and genuine belief that it could transform downtown Hagerstown," said Dennis Frye, spokesman for the nonprofit Antietam Creek Coalition.

The coalition wants to bring articles from the Smithsonian Institution's Civil War collection to an 80,000- to 100,000-square-foot museum at a cost of about $40 million.

Museum supporters will be competing with people all across Maryland for a piece of a the state's nearly $1 billion surplus.

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"We face stiff competition. By no means is anything certain," Frye said.

The project meets two of the governor's visions for the state, education and Smart Growth, Frye said.

It also seems to have strong support from local elected officials, including Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

Bruchey asked the delegation this week to help lobby for the state money and the Smithsonian affiliation.

Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he'll propose the delegation write letters of support.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he's willing to visit the governor personally to ask for the money.

"As Hagerstown's resident delegate, I'm very proud to approach the governor and ask for it. That's my job," he said.

The coalition would use the state money for site planning, marketing and conceptualizing exhibits. They also would use it in their quest for a Smithsonian affiliation and finishing a finance plan to be sold on Wall Street.

The coalition has used a $100,000 grant from the city, county and state for an initial study, the preliminary results of which are to be released March 21, Frye said.

At that time, the coalition will propose several downtown site alternatives, he said.

The museum expects to formally apply for the Smithsonian affiliation, but Frye does not know when a decision will be made.

The museum will potentially compete for state money against a new minor league baseball stadium for Hagerstown, although stadium supporters have not made a formal request to the governor this session.

The projects could eventually compete on the local level as well.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he had the Civil War museum in mind when he helped write a proposal to increase the county's hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 6 percent.

Under the plan, it would be up to the Washington County Commissioners to decide how to spend an estimated $300,000 a year the tax would raise for economic development and tourism projects.

It has been estimated that the museum would attract 300,000 visitors a year, which means it would bring in more tourists and fill up more hotel rooms than would a new minor league baseball stadium in Hagerstown, Shank said.

Frye said the museum would like to tap into the hotel tax money.

"The museum has the potential to become a tourist mecca for downtown Hagerstown. The museum will directly benefit the hotel-motel industry. We are hopeful the county will give careful consideration to tourist projects that will ensure the best return for the tax dollar investment," Frye said.

The room tax increase plan will be considered by the Maryland General Assembly this session, which ends April 10.

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