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Drawing people downtown

October 07, 2004

Can downtown Hagerstown be a retail center and an exciting place to live? Marketing strategist Brian Flook thinks so, but it will take more than advertising and brainstorming to make it happen.

What will it take? What the tourism promoters call a "destination attraction" to bring the foot traffic that the downtown area needs.

Some of that traffic will come as a result of the opening of the University System of Maryland's downtown campus. Other traffic will come as downtown housing is redeveloped into private residences by those who are being priced out of other urban areas such as Frederick.

Other possibilities include:

· Developer Manny Shaool's one-time proposal to turn his building at 72-74 W. Washington St. in a home-design center. Shaool had pledged to finance all but $400,000 of the $2 million project, which would draw owners of new and existing homes for a variety of services and products.

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· City Councilman N. Linn Hendershot's proposal to turn the old Nicodemus bank building at the corner of Summit Avenue and West Washington Street into a center for genealogical research.

· Screening of classic films at the Maryland Theatre. Patricia Wolford, the theater's executive director, has said the existing projection equipment would need to be replaced, but if such an event could draw a few hundred people for a Saturday matinee, it might be a cause worth raising money for.

Flook is also correct when he says the downtown needs its own Web site. People considering a trip downtown should be able to go to one site to find store hours, daily restaurant specials - and which establishments will validate your parking deck ticket.

Only one of Flook's points seems off-base. His proposal to have the city subsidize rent for a large retail anchor stores is wishful thinking. If the large retailers felt they could sell products downtown, they'd be doing it already.

It is downtown's small shops, with their specialized products and personal service, that will draw shoppers there.

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