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City to lure people to move downtown

February 25, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

The City of Hagerstown hopes to entice young professionals and other mid-income residents to its downtown with a housing program that was approved Tuesday night.

If the program is successful, it would not only give renters and home buyers a break of up to $1,500, but it could bring new businesses to the city and improve the housing stock, Community Development Manager Larry Bayer said Tuesday.

"It's a good deal," Bayer said. "We are attracting additional people to live downtown ... (and) it makes the market more desirable downtown" for both landlords and businesses that would cater to the new tenants.

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The city's Community Development Department has $50,000 to run the program for two years, and hopes to have 50 people take part by the end of that period, Bayer said. He said the program would be up and running within a few weeks.

The program is focusing on the area contained by Cannon Avenue, Baltimore Street, Prospect Street and East Avenue/Church Street.

Renters would receive a $100 rebate on rent each month for one year, which Bayer said would come in the form of a check sent directly to the property manager.

Home buyers would receive a one-time $1,500 payment from the city that could be used for a mortgage down payment or closing costs.

Bayer said the city is targeting those who have recently graduated from college or were recently honorably discharged from the military; government workers; students and staff of the University System of Maryland and other professionals.

Bayer said the program can accommodate 25 people this year, and another 25 next year. Each participant must agree to stay for two years or face penalties.

One problem with the downtown area is that many people are older and living on fixed incomes, Bayer said. He said the three largest complexes in the focus area - Potomac Towers, Alexander House and Elizabeth Court - are examples of that.

He said if the program is successful, it could bring 50 younger people with disposable incomes to the area. He said the program could entice landlords to spruce up their properties in anticipation of the new tenants.

Businesses wishing to target that audience might be encouraged to set up shop in the area, where historically there has been little business growth, Bayer said.

The program, first devised by Hagerstown City Police Sgt. Kevin Simmers, drew positive reaction from Councilmen Kristin B. Aleshire and Lewis C. Metzner Tuesday.

When the program was discussed at a city council work session earlier this month, Aleshire wondered why the program wasn't bigger. Tuesday, he said the program would be good for the city.

Aleshire said the city doesn't target "middle socio-economic population" often enough, but this program could bring "an increased level of social ... daily activity downtown.

"I think that's a key component" of the success of urban areas, Aleshire said.

The City Council approved the measure unanimously at its voting session Tuesday.

Before the vote, Metzner gave kudos to Simmers for "coming up with a really good idea."

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