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Civil War museum location selected

March 20, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Developers of a planned national Civil War museum on Monday have proposed a downtown Hagerstown project site that could displace 15 existing businesses and about 20 residences.

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The Antietam Creek Coalition wants to build the proposed $45 million affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution at the junction of Antietam and South Potomac streets, said Dennis Frye, spokesman for the nonprofit group developing and designing the museum.

Buildings in the proposed site area - which is framed by South Potomac Street to the east, St. John's Lutheran Church to the south and The Herald-Mail to the west - might be demolished to accommodate the planned 80,000-square-foot museum and surrounding outdoor park.

"None of the existing structures provide adequate space or the environment for a sophisticated 21st-century museum," Frye said. "The future of those buildings will be up to those buying the property. The coalition is not in the property acquisition business. The market will determine the fair value of those properties."

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The coalition, which is slated today to address such key issues as visitation and project funding, would lease the property and manage the museum and park, Frye said.

He refused Monday to discuss how the project would be funded.

"It's going to be exciting. It's going to be engrossing. Most importantly, it's going to make Hagerstown one of the most interesting destinations in this country," Frye told the area civic and business leaders who attended Monday's meeting in Council Chambers at City Hall.

Some of those leaders, including County Commissioner Paul Swartz and Tom Newcomer, chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, spoke in support of the site selection.

The museum would be a "national magnet" and a "perfect fit" with the city's arts and entertainment district, Newcomer said.

But open space is needed for the museum to be successful, said Frye and Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, whom Frye said has been an "integral component" in the planning process for the project.

For that open space to be made available, a number of establishments - including the old Antietam Paper Company building, Ferris Baker Watts, Inc. and Baltimore Street Station car wash - must be displaced.

The Antietam Paper Company building houses three businesses and about seven apartment units. A neighboring structure houses another dozen apartment units and the Shortstop Tavern.

Under the proposal, the land that now holds these buildings will boast a museum site that will serve as a southern "anchor" to key points in the city's core, Frye said.

The location, which faces the new District Court building on Antietam Street, was chosen primarily for its topography and "outstanding neighbors," including the Washington County Free Library, he said.

With the homes on Summit Avenue and South Prospect Street in the background, "It's absolutely lovely," he said.

The proposed site will enhance the area near the new $4.2 million court house, and permit by one-block the extension of the city's arts and entertainment district, site backers said.

The site includes enough acreage to develop an outdoor park with a granite "Wall of Honor," is surrounded by neighbors who assure the upkeep of their properties, and is along a direct route to Antietam National Battlefield, proponents added.

The parking lot behind the Hagerstown Trust building on West Washington Street provides a potential site for a new parking deck, Bruchey said.

The Antietam Street address is ideal for a national Civil War museum, site backers said.

The coalition wants to bring to its museum artifacts from the Smithsonian Institution's Civil War collection. The Smithsonian, under its two-year-old affiliations program, lends artifacts to new and existing museums across the country.

Washington County lawmakers asked Gov. Parris Glendening on March 15 to add to his budget $450,000 for site planning and exhibits. The state money would also be used for marketing and finishing a financing plan to be sold on Wall Street.

The coalition has already spent $100,000 from the city, county and state for an initial study.

Del. Sue Hecht, D-Washington/Frederick, called the state funding request a "long shot." Frye has said that without the state's help this year the project is dead.

It has been estimated that the museum would attract 300,000 visitors a year.

The coalition will meet with city and county officials at 4 p.m. today in Council Chambers to discuss how visitation would justify the museum's "financial existence," Frye said.

"We do not want to be pie-in-the-sky. We do not wish to be unrealistic," he said. "This museum can stand. It can financially withstand all the scrutiny that Wall Street can give it."

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