Hagerstown's new night life, etc.

October 01, 2003|by BOB MAGINNIS

One of the most frequent complaints I've heard about downtown Hagerstown over the years is that with a few exceptions, there isn't much to do after 5 p.m.

Well, city officials and a group of merchants and restaurant operators will try to create some night life downtown with a new promotion called "Thursday Night Out on the Town."

According to Deborah Everhart, the city's economic development director, many downtown retailers have committed to staying open evenings on the following Thursdays: Oct. 16, Nov. 13 and Dec. 11.

On those nights, parking in the North Potomac Street deck will be free and if you'd like to shop first and eat later, many retailers will give you a ticket for a free dessert if you dine at a participating restaurant.


Those include: The Washington Spy, Schmankerl Stube, Roccoco's, Broad Axe, Rhubarb House, Bentley's Bagels, Rocky's Pizza and the Gourmet Goat. Reservations are recommended.

Everhart said there also will be entertainment on the street, not only to entertain those who are there but to catch the attention of drivers passing by.

Downtown is not what it used to be 30 years ago, but it will never be anything else unless people give the businesses that are there some of their support. As I found out last December when I did a downtown Christmas gift guide, there's a lot more there than you might think.

For more information, call Everhart at 301-739-8577, ext. 141 or Dani Frye at ext. 112.

For last Sunday's column, I interviewed Hagerstown and Washington County officials on roads and utility improvements that will be needed if the hospital moves to Robinwood.

The short answer: About $20 million worth, although not all of that will be due to the new hospital. Government policy is another problem: Unless current rules on the allocation of sewer service outside the city limits are changed, city officials say there won't be enough capacity for the new hospital.

Councilman Lew Metzner has called for a public meeting with hospital officials to deal with a variety of issues. Before that happens, it would make more sense for city staff and the hospital's consultants to get together and hash out some proposed solutions. If the new hospital is going to open as planned in 2007, a lot has to happen between now and then.

The Interfaith Coalition of Washington County will take its mission in a new direction on Thursday, Oct. 16, when it holds a forum on the topic of "Women and Faith."

Publicity for the event notes that women are often seen as the keepers of tradition, teaching the customs, courtesies and traditions central to a person's faith. Because an earlier forum showed that fear of reaching out often comes from a misunderstanding of others' traditions, the three women who speak will try to dispel myths about their faith traditions.

In the event, which will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, women from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths will explain what their daily lives are really like.

For more on the program, contact Pastor Ed Poling at 301-733-3565, or Dr. Shahab Siddiqui at 301-791-2510.

Washington County Commissioner John Munson stopped by last week to say that he did not mean to hurt anyone with his proposal to shut down the County Commuter bus system.

Munson said the system, which operates at a loss, might be replaced with a voucher system that would enable county residents to take cab rides for the cost of a bus ride and in the process save some of the $415,000 the county contributes to the bus service each year.

Munson said he would not want to limit the new system to those who are disabled, because he realizes that others need it, too.

But too many buses run nearly empty now, he said, and there's got to be a better way.

Under Munson's plan, someone who needed a cab would call one, then give the driver a voucher. The advantage, Munson said, would be that those who have difficulty walking wouldn't have to trudge all the way to a bus stop to get a ride.

Munson said that his answer might not be the total solution and added he would like to put together a meeting of local elected officials and businesspeople to solicit ideas.

Economy is a good thing, but public transportation is an amenity our area needs, especially if we're going to persuade our aging parents to give up their driving privileges when it's time. Let's think about what Munson is proposing.

What if a cab company, selected by bid, agreed to provide all the rides needed by those who use the bus system now, at a per-trip price less than the current county subsidy?

One problem that presents itself almost immediately: If everyone who wants one gets a cab ride for less than $2 a trip, wouldn't that increase usage of the system, and the county's costs? And if you rationed rides based on need, wouldn't you still need to pay someone to decide who was eligible and who wasn't?

And so shutting down the system may be more complicated than just padlocking the bus terminal. If, as the Swiss architect Le Corbusier once said, "God is in the details," then there are obviously some details that haven't yet been worked out. In the next few weeks I'll look at what other county bus systems have done to save cash.

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