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City moving ahead with marketing strategies

October 06, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown City Council gave the go-ahead for city staff to pursue a plan to draw more interest to downtown areas by using advertising and other marketing tools.

At its Tuesday work session, the council also heard a recap of a number of actions the city has taken in the past year in efforts to improve the downtown.

Marketing strategist Brian Flook told the council that the city continues to face the problem of getting tourists and shoppers to visit the city's core.

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"The issue is to focus on bringing people in" to downtown, Flook said.

Flook presented a number of ideas the city could pursue to start adding the pedestrian traffic he said is necessary to make the downtown a vibrant, urban setting.

Flook's suggestions included ways to try to separate the identity of the city's government from the downtown, which he said should be a retail center and an exciting place to live.

Flook said some ways to do that are to create a new city logo only for the downtown; design a new Web site only for the downtown; create new brochures, videos that can be distributed electronically; and regional ad campaigns.

Flook also recommended forming groups of community leaders who could come up with other marketing ideas. He asked the city to remove regulations that can slow business growth, and asked the council to consider subsidizing rent for one or two major retail anchors.

City officials said they favored some of the recommendations.

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said another recommendation, changing South Potomac Street and possibly other downtown streets to handle two-way traffic, is "something we've got to look at real hard."

Hendershot said one-way vehicle traffic can harm street-facing businesses and is less safe for pedestrians because traffic tends to move faster.

Mayor William M. Breichner said he favored the idea of a new city logo.

"As far as our logo is concerned, it's a nice logo ... but it goes back centuries," Breichner said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner questioned the focus on the marketing of retail in downtown before there are retail stores that have a regional appeal.

City Economic Development Director Debbie Everhart said after the meeting that she expected most of the marketing ideas to come back to the council for final approval in the next few months, although some ideas could be put together more quickly.

Everhart said the city has authorized spending up to $50,000 to put in place the proposals. She said Flook's company, Hagerstown-based Power Marketing & Advertising Inc., was paid about $5,000 for its work to develop the marketing plan.

Everhart and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman also outlined several actions the council has taken since it laid out a plan last year for downtown redevelopment.

The officials said the city has met several points in its plan, including continued work with the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, the approval of a new parking deck to be built off South Potomac Street and the creation of a community development corporation.

Some items the council prioritized that remain to be finished include the creation of a downtown antique market, the creation of an arts school and the rehabilitation of several vacant buildings, officials said.

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