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Civil War project leaders need to provide answers

April 24, 2000

The Hagerstown City Council and the Washington County Commissioners meet jointly today to consider a number of issues, including the proposed National Civil War Museum downtown and the long-awaited Civil War movie "Gods and Generals." It's time for some answers on both projects.

In January, Jeff Shaara, author of the book on which the movie will be based, said producers were close to finalizing a deal with a major motion picture company, details of which would not be announced for two or three months.

More than two years ago, the elected officials of the city and county approved loan guarantees for a loan Antietam Filmworks has with F&M Bank. The term of the loans require producer Ronald Maxwell to film a signficant portion of the movie in Washington County.

Much was said early on about the possible economic benefits, not only because of the economic spin-offs from the filming, but also because of the possibility that sets built for it might be preserved as part of some living-history, Williamsburg-type attraction.

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The movie business being what it is, firm timetables are not often adhered to. But the taxpayers whose funds are at risk deserve as much information as is available without jeopardizing the project.

The same is true for the Civil War museum, for which taxpayers provided $75,000 toward a $100,000 study of a proposed $46 million structure. Dennis Frye, leader of the Antietam Creek Coalition, says that loss of an expected $450,000 state grant has jeopardized the project.

But he says the coalition won't ask the city or city for more cash, and hopes instead to raise it from other sources. Beforethe coaltion begins soliciting donations, we hope they'll answer some key questions, like how it hopes to win Smithsonian Institution affiliation without a collection of its own.

According to Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederic//Washington, that lack was a key factor in the loss of the state grant, and prospective donors need some reassurance it's not an insurmountable obstacle.

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