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Second parking deck

March 25, 2000|By JULIE E. GREENE

A proposal for a national Civil War museum in downtown Hagerstown recommends the city build a second parking deck to accommodate visitors, but a majority of City Council members aren't sure the city can afford it.

By June 30 the city will have lost more than $4.7 million on its first parking deck, which opened in 1986, and another of similar size could cost up to $6 million, according to the Hagerstown Finance Department.

A new parking deck is an "absolute must-have" for the proposed Civil War museum, said Dennis Frye, spokesman for the nonprofit Antietam Creek Coalition that would build and operate the $46 million facility.

The coalition wants a parking deck with 500 to 600 spaces, but not exclusive use of the deck. The city's North Potomac Street parking deck has 431 spaces with permits issued for 305 spaces, said City Finance Director Al Martin.

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Frye said the museum would be a national attraction that would draw an estimated 330,000 people in its first full year. Coalition officials hope to open the museum on Sept. 17, 2002, the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.

The museum is far from a sure thing.

Coalition officials need to secure affiliation status with the Smithsonian Institution and $450,000 in state funding for site planning and exhibits.

Councilman Lewis Metzner said it's premature to talk about a second parking deck when the museum has so many hurdles to overcome.

Councilman William M. Breichner said he doesn't think the city can afford to build a second deck in the immediate future. Breichner said he thought the coalition would be responsible for a parking deck for museum visitors.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said the burden of building a second parking deck should probably be the city's, but he also thinks the proposed site for the museum is big enough to allow for some parking.

Frye said no parking is planned at the proposed museum site at the corner of West Antietam and South Potomac streets. The 80,000-square-foot museum would be surrounded by an outdoor park.

City officials have been talking for years about a second parking deck as a long-term project to help alleviate downtown parking problems.

With the new District Court on West Antietam Street nearing completion, the proposed museum and a planned University System of Maryland Education Center downtown, Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein said plans for a second deck need to progress faster.

Saum-Wicklein said the city alone shouldn't fund a second deck, adding that the logical financial partners are the state and the Washington County Commissioners.

City officials have talked to Hagerstown Trust Co. officials about buying air rights to their West Antietam Street parking lot, a potential site for a parking deck, but no offers have been made, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

Bruchey said he thinks the city could justify building a second parking deck if the museum is going to bring 30,000 people a month downtown.

"I think it would definitely pay for itself," Bruchey said.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said the city couldn't justify a second deck without federal grant money.

The city won't pay off its first parking deck until 2012. By then the parking deck will have cost the city $5.1 million in principal and interest, Martin said. The first deck was built with about $1 million in grants.

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