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For Hagerstown, maybe the obvious isn't

August 26, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

Sometimes, I guess, the obvious isn't so obviously obvious.

There are times when a bird dog is needed to flush out something, even though it's hiding in plain sight.

One of the best examples I can point to of having your eyes wide shut is when Hagerstown's City Council heard the findings of a consultant it hired to remedy the lack of tourist traffic downtown.

According to the consultant, Hagerstown has many assets, it just has to market them to get out-of-towners to come inland. It was suggested that Hagerstown start a five-level committee, which included promotion.

Holy revelations, Batman! That piece of information cost the city $10,000.

I know quite a few regular folks, myself included, who have been screaming the same thing from the top of the nearest vacant building (and you don't have to go far to find one).

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Now, I have the same dreams as the next guy. I'd like to have a pile of money to make life easier. I've tried conventional means, like playing the lottery, trying the stock market and harvesting sea monkeys to make a couple of extra bucks. But consulting, that's where the money seems to be.

Where else can you speak your mind while the rest of the world says, "Duh?"

It's true. Hagerstown has a lot of assets in its favor. But I think it has two basic problems.

1. The city doesn't use those assets favorably.

2. It doesn't have any idea of how to market them.

On quick count, Hagerstown has more than the outlet and shopping malls in its favor. On the sports front (you knew there had to be a reason for me writing this, didn't you?), there are youth and adult sports, the ice arena, Mason Dixon Dragway, Hagerstown Speedway and the Suns. Add to the list City and Fairgrounds parks, The Maryland Theatre, and in years to come, the all-universities school.

But Hagerstown can't seem to market itself to Hagerstonians, let alone tourists.

One of the easiest ways to get traffic is to couple assets into a package. For example, get the Suns and The Maryland Theatre to work together so fans could buy one ticket that would admit them to an afternoon baseball game and an evening concert. It could be called "Hits and Hits." In fact, a number of them could be done, using different music styles like country, rock, jazz and oldies.

Or how about the Suns and The Maryland Theatre working together during the Miss Maryland Pageant weekend? One ticket gets people into both. It could be called "Hits and Misses."

Youth soccer and adult softball tournaments are an easy draw because families outside the area must come in and stay for the weekend. That would take more than just a visit from a politician carrying a decree calling it "Youth Soccer Weekend" to make it into something special.

The idea is to stagger the events with one in the early afternoon and the other in the evening. Then, fans and ticketholders will stay in town and use the eating establishments, stores and gas stations to fill the time between events. Huge athletic tournaments bring people here for two to three days, accomplishing the same benefits.

Other variations could be made for auto racing enthusiasts and ice skating and hockey fans where the whole community will benefit, not only the downtown businesses.

The city fails to get involved in promoting events and lacks the creativity to find new ways to use those assets - outside of Sister City Weekend and BluesFest. Its idea of promotion seems to be letting the newspaper and the television and radio stations get the word out.

The city doesn't have to waste a lot of money to get things going. Put signs in store fronts. Use links from Web sites, like Maryland tourism, the Suns, Antietam Battlefield and others, where curious people will find them by accident.

But most of all, act interested. If the city goes out of the way to promote its assets, it can only improve the surroundings. It's like dropping a pebble in a puddle and watching the waves. The event is in the middle and the businesses that prosper ring around it.

So, there's one man's plan ... and it was only two cents worth on the subject.

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