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Museum group makes fund bid

March 23, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Developers of a national Civil War museum in Hagerstown appealed to key Maryland budget and elected officials Wednesday for a $450,000 pledge before the legislative session ends April 10.

The nonprofit Antietam Creek Coalition would use the money to pursue Smithsonian Institution affiliation and design the $46 million museum, which the coalition has proposed be built on an L-shaped site at the corner of Antietam and Potomac streets.

Coalition members said the museum, along with the state investments in a nearby District Court building under construction and a planned University System of of Maryland education center, could help revitalize downtown Hagerstown.

"This is indeed the kind of thing the governor thinks is very important. I think that makes it a strong competitor. But I don't want to mislead anyone. There are a lot of strong competitors," said Gene Lynch, Glendening's deputy chief of staff.

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At Wednesday's meeting of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, museum representatives gave project details to Lynch and Arthur Hilsenrad, deputy secretary for capital programs.

They also met with House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany/Garrett, who said he thinks the museum is an exciting and workable idea although the prospects for state funding this year are less clear.

"It's going to be tough, but I wouldn't give up on it," Taylor said.

Washington County lawmakers have said they will do what they can to help get the state grant. Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, met with Glendening about it last week.

Hecht said the coalition told state officials on Wednesday why the state commitment is urgent. The coalition is afraid it will lose the Smithsonian affiliation to museums in Harrisburg, Pa., and Richmond, Va.

"They can't take away our Civil War heritage, but they can take the tourists," said Randy Harper, coalition founder.

The governor's representatives posed some tough questions about financing.

Harper admitted the state would take a risk by pledging money before the decision is made this summer about the Smithsonian affiliation. There is no guarantee the project can move forward without the affiliation.

Coalition members said they'll return to seek state help with construction costs. The coalition estimates state and federal sources will yield between $16.5 million and $23 million.

The coalition expects to borrow $13 million and raise $16.5 million.

Hilsenrad asked if there is a local match.

Museum officials said they have received $100,000 locally and are looking to local officials to help them buy the site and demolish the buildings.

The Washington County Commissioners could designate some of the proceeds from a proposed hotel tax increase to the museum, said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

There's no timetable for the funding decision. Glendening will announce additions to his budget in the next few weeks.

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