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Consultant says towns could benefit from Civil War area

August 01, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A consultant on Thursday explained to an assembled group of residents and officials from Hagerstown, Boonsboro and Williamsport how those towns could be impacted and may benefit from the Maryland Civil War Heritage Area initiative, specifically the designation of Target Investment Zones.

The zones would be commercial areas, often main streets or downtowns, that offer historic settings, contain some services for heritage tourists and could benefit from additional financial incentives or investments.

The Civil War Heritage Area encompasses parts of Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties.

Downtown Hagerstown was chosen as the only active county Target Investment Zone, which means it will be eligible for all zone incentives upon approval of the heritage area's management plan.

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That step is expected to occur by late fall, Jackie Barton, associate with Mary Means Associates Inc., an Alexandria, Va. consulting firm, told the crowd of about 20 people. The consultants are being paid through a state grant.

The active zones usually are the closest to important battlefields, the most visitor friendly and motivated, and supported by local groups and projects, she said.

Boonsboro and Williamsport have been recommended for future status as zones.

Areas designated as zones can benefit from state income tax credits, matching grants and loans, Barton said. Businesses don't have to be related to the Civil War in order to benefit financially from the zones.

For example, two speakers mentioned the need for someone to open a bicycle shop in Williamsport to meet demand from people traveling through the area, he said.

The consultants encouraged Hagerstown to have more after-hours businesses and additional accommodations such as a hotel or bed-and-breakfast so people can spend the night and walk to downtown attractions.

The city also needs to address what the consultant called an "aura of neglect," Barton said. While there may not be actual neglect, businesses need to be aware that what might seem a minor matter, such as storing boxes in the entrance window of a store, could be the factor that stops a potential shopper from stopping there, she said.

People interested in the Civil War will come through the region to look at the battlefields but economic incentive programs such as this one can help ensure that people will spend money in Washington County businesses, said Dennis Frye, a local Civil War historian. Frye is on the heritage area steering committee.

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