CDC may start new homes in downtown by year's end

August 19, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

The community development corporation that Hagerstown officials have been talking about for more than a year is alive and well and ready to close a deal that could bring 30 to 35 new market-rate townhouses to the downtown area.

Richard Phoebus Sr., president of Hagerstown Neighborhood Partnership Inc., said this week the group is close to securing a large piece of property downtown, the location of which can't be revealed now.

When the details are finalized, Phoebus said that the group could build townhouses in the $150,000 to $200,000 range, or three or four-story condominiums.

Doing the latter would yield more units, but would have to be done carefully to blend in with the city's existing architecture, he said.


"One of the things we're very cognizant of, very sensitive to, is the existing architecture. We don't want to do a glass-and-steel building," he said.

When I noted that on a recent visit to the Fells Point area of Baltimore, I saw new townhouses that had been designed to look historic, Phoebus said something like that needs to be done in Hagerstown.

So when will these good things begin to happen?

"Our contract has a 90-day due diligence," Phoebus said, explaining that both parties will check many details during that time.

Phoebus said he is acting as director of the CDC on a temporary basis until a permanent one can be hired. That will happen after the organization gets its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service, which Phoebus said he expects within a month to six weeks.

When that happens, he said, then the groups that have pledged money will be able to deliver it.

"We have approximately $100,000 in pledges from various community organizations," he said.

Thirty to 35 new townhouses will be a nice first step toward doing what the consultant, Thomas "Rocky" Wade, proposed to the Hagerstown City Council more than a year ago.

Instead of renovating one house at a time in the downtown core and trying to find a buyer who wouldn't mind being one of the few homeowners on the block, the new agency would buy multiple properties and either renovate them, or demolish them and build new homes.

A survey done in the 1990s by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond found that 60 percent of Hagerstown's residents rent their homes while 40 percent own them. That's just the opposite of what planners consider a healthy mix. Owners tend to invest in their buildings and fight neighborhood deterioration, while renters tend to leave problem neighborhoods when their leases are up. Thanks to Phoebus, his board and all who've helped for getting this important effort under way.

Speaking of downtown, fans of good old rock 'n' roll will have a chance to hear one of the best bands in the business on Friday, Aug. 27, when Felix Cavaliere and the Rascals come to town as part of the annual Augustoberfest celebration.

The group had a slew of Top 10 hits, including "Good Lovin" and "Groovin (on a Sunday afternoon.)"

The Rascals will play from 9:30 until 11 p.m. that night, but your $20 ticket will get you a full night of music, starting p.m. with Alpen Echos at 5:30 p.m. and The Shades at 7:30 p.m.

A full day and night of Bavarian music will be offered Saturday, Aug. 28. If you want to see both days' shows, you can buy a combination ticket for only $25.

To order, visit the Convention and Visitors Bureau office at 6 N. Potomac St. in downtown Hagerstown, or call 301-791-3246, or order on-line at

Another downtown note: At a recent city council meeting, mention was made of the Washington County Free Library's plan to show movies on the side of its building as part of the city's "Thursday Night Out" events.

Councilwoman Carol Moller wondered why they couldn't be shown at The Maryland Theatre.

Because the theater's projection equipment is more than 40 years old, said Pat Wolford, the theater's executive director.

The last time they used it, for a showing of "The Sound of Music" two years ago, the film broke four times. New equipment would cost $25,000 to $30,000, she said.

Until a generous angel arrives with that cash, Wolford has suggested that the Thursday events might include small music groups in the theater's court or lobby, where patrons could listen for a few minutes before or after dinner and have coffee or a dessert.

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