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Long-term 'dream'

A group met in July to discuss a major redevelopment effort for part of the city

A group met in July to discuss a major redevelopment effort for part of the city

August 06, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - As Washington County Hospital prepares its strategy for leaving downtown Hagerstown, Municipal Stadium continues to age and some nearby properties are showing decay, some might see a drain on the city's core.

But one group of people is choosing to see opportunity, local businessman Richard Phoebus and others said this week.

An area near the stadium reaching north to the hospital and Dual Highway, running south along Frederick Street and stretching eastward in the city's East End was under consideration for a major redevelopment effort during a private meeting last month.

The ideas for redevelopment include a new or refurbished baseball stadium, a convention center, hotels, shops, tourist attractions, residential development and public parks.

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A group of local business representatives, including Phoebus, and city, county and state officials discussed those ideas in the unannounced, private meeting on July 22.

Phoebus is the president and CEO of the business-advocating Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation Inc., president of the city's recently formed community redevelopment corporation and is a member of the board of directors of Washington County Health System, which owns and operates Washington County Hospital.

Phoebus would not comment at the time of the meeting but this week said the ideas discussed were "a pipe dream," but one that was well-received by the dozen or so people who attended the meeting.

"It's a dream, but this community needs to start dreaming," Phoebus said.

Phoebus said properties targeted for redevelopment either would be those that are publicly owned - the city and county own several pieces of land near the stadium - or those that might be for sale.

A large-scale redevelopment would bring more tax revenue into the city and would improve the city's quality of life, Phoebus said.

No drawings for the ideas have been produced yet, but that is the next step, Phoebus and others who attended the meeting said. Those drawings, as well as plans for financing, would then be available for community review.

"We want to start building community support for this," Phoebus said.

Phoebus said that a private company in the Washington, D.C., area had been contacted in an effort to begin designing plans for possible redevelopment.

Phoebus said private groups have said they would provide money to pay for that work. He would not divulge the names of the metro-area company or those who said they would pledge money. Phoebus said no public money has been pledged for the effort.

Any physical changes could be years away.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner, who was at the July 22 meeting, said he did not think any changes that developed from the talks would be seen for at least two or three years - Phoebus said even five to 10 years. But Breichner said the discussions should interest the City Council, which has prioritized downtown redevelopment.

"Certainly, this council should be, in my mind, buying into" a plan like this, Breichner said.

Breichner said that while some efforts to revitalize downtown are doing well, such as the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown and The Bowman Group's project on South Potomac Street, it is still not convenient to live downtown.

"The objective here is to get people back into the city and ... provide the amenities they need for a convenient lifestyle in the city."

Tom Riford, president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he would like to see something that creates jobs and is good for tourism. He also said he thought there is an opportunity to encourage home ownership.

"Significant possibilities exist for a renaissance that could create some opportunities for Hagerstown," Riford said.

Breichner said the biggest problem in following though on the redevelopment efforts is a lack of money.

"Everything boils down to money," Breichner said.

Public money likely would have to be used, but he said private money should pay for the bulk of any project that comes out of the discussions.

"Finding a way to finance (the project) is going to be the key," Breichner said.

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