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Ideas to improve city are weighed

November 19, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A variety of possibilities for improving downtown were presented to the Hagerstown City Council Tuesday, including providing startup funds for a bakery and financially encouraging business owners to live above their stores.

Rather than have a list of various goals for the year, the council has instructed city employees to focus their energy on revitalizing downtown and bringing a list of ideas back to the council for consideration.

The city did something similar about six years ago, when it directed its staff to focus much of its energy on planning Fairgrounds Park, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.

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For Tuesday's work session, the council was given a written report not only on proposed programs to help downtown, but other possible changes, including increasing the number of trash cans and putting more trees and decorative lighting on streets.

The ideas were publicly discussed for the first time at Tuesday's work session. The council did not vote on any of the ideas.

"This is a good start," Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said, adding that he wants more information on the costs of some of the proposals.

Councilwoman Penny May Nigh said she is tired of hearing people saying that the city is not doing anything to try to improve downtown when Hagerstown Economic Development Director Deborah Everhart and others with the city clearly are trying to do so.

Nigh praised one suggestion that might help new city police officers find a place to live downtown.

She was referring to a proposal to start a downtown housing incentive program, using $50,000 from the Community Betterment Fund. Through the program, the city could provide incentives to encourage city employees, recent college graduates and people just discharged from the armed services to live downtown.

While many of the proposed changes would require some city funds, the hope is there will be other financial sources, Everhart said.

The city has identified the success of the University of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center as its top downtown priority, Zimmerman said. The city must work with the county and state governments and the private sector to encourage funding of the center's operating budget.

One of the most important capital projects downtown is the Arts and Entertainment Parking Deck, which is estimated to cost about $2.2 million. The parking deck would be across the street from The Maryland Theatre.

The city will try to get county and state funding for the project, the report said.

The parking deck project will come back before the council next month for further discussion, Zimmerman said.

Aleshire said city employees will need to know what the council wants to do throughout downtown to avoid approving projects or ideas that might be contrary to those plans.

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