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City should approve plan for new downtown plaza

September 22, 2000

City should approve plan for new downtown plaza



To long-time observers of events in downtown Hagerstown, the climb back from the retail exodus that began in the 1970s has been a slow one, with every renovation project a welcome mile marker on a very long road.

But now comes a developer who not only wants to put a new $12 million, 88,000-square-foot office building on South Potomac Street, he also wants to add 113 parking spaces accessible to the public at night. He's only asking two things: To be allowed to demolish three buildings and to get the city to add 200 parking spaces behind the building.

If the city agrees, Marc Silverman says his building with its "urban plaza" could bring an estimated 300 jobs downtown. That's 300 additional people to eat in downtown restaurants, shop at downtown stores and use other downtown services, like banks and legal offices.

Frankly, we don't see anything to dislike in this proposal. The foot traffic and the buzz that will come as a result of this developer's decision to sink $12 million into downtown can only speed the re-use of other downtown properties.

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One sticking point, however, is likely to be the council's resistance to adding parking spaces. There will be those who object, and who will cite surveys which say there are plenty of spaces in downtown Hagerstown. But the professionals Silverman hopes to attract won't want to walk a block or two to work, particularly if their work requires them to travel. The additional spaces will also make it more attractive to renovate rental property, since tenants could park there overnight.

Then there's the Preservation Design District Commission, whose members say it doesn't make sense to build up downtown by tearing down buildings. But the old Tri-State building at 38 S. Potomac St., has been vacant for years and is hardly an architectural gem. The old tavern at 46 S. Potomac St., made a contribution to downtown, but few would say it was positive.

That leaves only Joe Walker's house at 32 S. Potomac, distinctive for its well-maintained exterior. Walker has tried for years to sell it, without success. He should be allowed to do so now, so that downtown's renaissance can continue.

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