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Businesses, residents caught by surprise

March 21, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Some business owners and residents who would have to move to make way for a proposed Civil War museum in downtown Hagerstown expressed disappointment and frustration Tuesday.

cont. from front page

Hagerstown leaders and the nonprofit Antietam Creek Coalition announced Monday that they hope to put a $45 million, 80,000 square-foot building along West Antietam and South Potomac streets.

The building, which would house a Civil War museum that city officials hope would become a major draw to downtown, would displace about 15 businesses and 20 apartments.

But several business owners said they do not want to go, and some of their landlords said they do not wish to sell.

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"I'm very disappointed something like that would come out in the paper without a legitimate representative of the company talking with us first," said Hugh H. Schindel, who owns the Antietam Paper building on West Antietam Street and the Baltimore Street Station car wash property.

Several property owners said they have been approached within the last couple of weeks by a real estate agent asking whether they would be willing to sell. Several land owners said they were not told who the buyer was or what his plans were.

"At the moment, I'd have to have a lot more information, and that would have to come after April 15," said Sharon L. McKee, an accountant who owns an office building on South Potomac Street. "And, of course, I'd want to know more about the project. This is the first I've heard about it."

Dennis E. Frye, a spokesman for the Antietam Creek Coalition, said his organization dispatched a Realtor to speak with property owners in the neighborhood. But he said the organization has decided not to acquire any property.

That would be left to either the city, county or a private entity that wanted to make the museum work.

Frye said the Realtor did not reveal the project to the landlords in order to avoid speculation and drive up the price.

Not everyone rebuffed the idea of selling.

Russell Mizell, whose wife owns 105-107 S. Potomac St., said the couple orally agreed to sell the building within the past week.

"I'm 79 years old, and I don't want to fool with it anymore," he said.

The building contains The Guitar Room, Barnwood Books and five apartments.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said there are "ongoing negotiations" regarding the properties.

Many of the residential and business tenants in the targeted area said they are concerned about the possibility of having to move.

"Where else would I go?" asked Debbie Howard, who has lived in an apartment on West Antietam Street for about two years. "It's not like it's that easy to find a place to go to."

Eric Irving, who moved into the building about three weeks ago, expressed anger over the museum proposal.

"Then we'd have no place to live," he said. "I'm sure they could find a better place than downtown, or at least find someplace historical rather than ruin people's lives."

LeRoy Baker, whose Baker's Barber & Beauty Shop has been at 29 W. Antietam St. for 35 years, said he would be disappointed if he had to relocate.

"Nothing. I didn't hear anything until today," he said.

Craig Schoppert, who owns The Guitar Room on South Potomac Street, said he would relocate outside of the city if he were displaced.

Schoppert, who has operated the business at the spot for 15 years, said he thinks it is a mistake to eliminate properties from the tax rolls.

The properties under consideration contribute more than $40,000 a year in property taxes, according to tax records.

"I don't think that's a smart move - not when they're fighting to keep us here," Schoppert said. "Personally, if I wanted to go to a Civil War Museum, I'd rather be at the battlefield, where most of the history was made."

Jeff Smith who owns The Printing Place at 37 W. Antietam St., said he is searching for another location out of downtown.

"I haven't been real happy with the downtown area," he said. "This kind of just pushes us over the edge."

Most businesses in the area have short-term leases, but Ferris Baker Watts has a long-term lease at 113 S. Potomac St.

John R. Hershey III, senior vice president and branch manager of the investment firm, said he thinks the prospect of a Civil War museum is exciting and would benefit Hagerstown.

However, he said the company has spent $250,000 on renovations to the building since it moved in four years ago. Any deal would have to include a provision to buy out the firm's lease, he said.

Other business tenants expressed enthusiasm for the project.

Gregory L. Toms, who owns A-Above Average Bail Bonds at 23 W. Antietam Street, said he has spent $6,000 to $8,000 on improvements to the building he leases.

As a bail bondsman, Toms said he prefers a location near District Court, but he said he knows and admires project organizer Frye.

"Anything that he's come up with has got to be good for the city of Hagerstown," he said. "Anything that's going to generate money for the City of Hagerstown, I'm all for it."

George T. Horman, managing partner of the law firm Offutt, Horman, Burdette & Frey, said the firm would be willing to move from its 111 S. Potomac St. location if necessary.

"Whatever's best for Hagerstown, we are certainly in favor of it," Horman said. "No one likes to be displaced, but that's part of business."

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