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Program's aim is to attract development to downtown

February 10, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A program developed by a task force of the Greater Hagerstown Committee and endorsed by Hagerstown city officials would give low-interest loans to developers who build commercial and residential projects downtown.

The task force met last April with 12 to 15 developers to discuss what it would take to get developers to build downtown, Ed Lough, chairman of the Greater Hagerstown Committee's Urban Renewal and Historic Preservation Forum, said Friday. City officials attended the forum.

Developers said they were hesitant to spend their own money downtown, Lough said.

Following the April 2002 meeting, the task force persuaded local banks to make money available for low-income loans, which in some cases could turn into grants, he said.

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The task force and the city plan to meet with developers again in the next few months to gauge reaction to the proposal, Hagerstown Economic Development Coordinator Deborah Everhart said Friday.

The program could involve upgrading existing structures and completing the replacement of some that are vacant, said Lough, a partner in the local office of Northwestern Mutual Insurance. The task force has not identified an area of downtown where it wants to see changes made, he said.

Improvements in both residential and commercial offerings are needed since they are interconnected, Lough said.

One of the task force's goals is to have more medium-priced or upscale housing downtown, to get people with more disposable income living there and spending money at downtown businesses, Lough said.

It is well known that there are too many homes downtown catering to people on Section 8 vouchers - government money used to subsidize the cost of private rentals, he said.

It may take building gated communities and other changes downtown to get some people to move downtown, Lough said.

That would be acceptable if it is needed to provide safety and security, Everhart said.

"At this point, we are trying to work with an open mind," she said. "We are trying to be a catalyst to making something happen."

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