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Loan for movie-maker may spur tourism here

March 29, 2002

The proposal to give the director of the Civil War film "Gods and Generals" a $150,000 loan to get him to make his next movie here is a wise one. The benefits that came to this area from Ron Maxwell's current production were substantial and should not be allowed to go to some other area.

Not only were hundreds of people paid here to work as extras in the movie, but the production company also rented local buildings for set-building and spent money for everything from motel rooms to lumber. Given their familiarity with the area and what's available, they should find a return performance engagement easier and more economical.

But beyond that, producing such a movie here also gives this area one more chance to boost Civil War-based tourism, an idea which has been much-talked-out, but not really implemented in any major way.

There was talk during the planning of the first movie that some of the sets might eventually become part on a permanent recreation of Civil War life, just as Williamsburg, Va. has recreated a part of colonial history in that town.

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That's still a possibility, given Washington County's proximity to major metropolitan areas and many Americans' post- Sept. 11 reluctance to travel great distances.

A Civil War tourism effort would also provide some financial justification for the historic district restrictions in effect in downtown Hagerstown. Instead of a being an impediment to getting things done, restoring a building to historic standards would enhance it as a business location.

In 1998, local officials took a leap of faith and pledged $300,000 toward a loan guarantee for "Gods and Generals." That faith paid off with a production that pumped at least $12 million into the local economy.

As welcome as that cash is, it's a one-time payday. The Civil War is a subject that will continues to interest Americans, and if local officials can find the will to act, it could be a source of continuing prosperity.

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