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Downtown Hagerstown should be an experience

October 24, 2004|by Nancy S. Allen

Yes, yes, yes. I sprang to my computer to respond to the recent Herald-Mail editorial column concerning attracting growth in the downtown sector - I even left the dinner dishes on the table.

In my opinion, a large retail anchor store, such as Macy's, would be just the solution to the city's problems. A large anchor store (such as Macy's) would attract shoppers to the downtown as it would be the only one for miles around. Montgomery County does not have a Macy's, Frederick County does not have a Macy's, but Washington County could.

Along with Macy's comes the upscale shopper who enjoys the grand-piano music while shopping, the "real" sales persons who truly want to help the customer, not just quickly take the money at the register. We could even a have a Macy's Day Parade of our own - think of the press. The restoration of the beautiful downtown architecture along with the nostalgia of a "downtown" theme, complete with store windows, revolving doors at the entrance to the store and many other different types of experiences for the shopper would be refreshing to say the least.

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The mall has the appeal of the easy-in, easy-out concept, but not the downtown theme of yesterday. I think this would be a wonderful, different idea that could revitalize the downtown in many ways. It would be a tourist attraction as they come to explore the outlets, but then come to dinner downtown and to shop in a different type of atmosphere.

What other city offers this? Where do you have to travel to experience this? The closest I have found is Mazza Gallerie off of Wisconsin Avenue. The hustle and bustle of the city and the offerings of concerts in the square, outside dining, theater performances and the fine restaurants we have downtown would be a refreshing change from the "food courts" of the mall atmosphere. Downtown shopping could become family oriented, with opportunities for memories, young and old together.

Growing up near Washington, D.C., afforded me the opportunity to go "downtown" every Saturday with my grandmother. Here we would shop, eat, hold hands along F Street and just be together. We went to the museums, the parks, had ice cream. Maybe I am naive and old-fashioned, but I would love to do that with my children today. I might be nuts or way off base here, but I found the concept to be worth sharing and thought someone else might agree. The City of Hagerstown has a wonderful opportunity to start a trend toward re-growth in the downtown. Give the people a reason to go downtown and they will go there. There is a need to feel connected to where you live. Housing developers have seen this trend and are now beginning to re-create the town concept as they plan new developments complete with libraries, shops, alleys, corner stores, etc.

In revitalizing the downtown, I also believe you must think about the people who currently live there. I believe the downtown population is part of the problem in attracting downtown business. The downtown has wonderful potential, but problems exist there to deter business from locating downtown.

There are many rundown rental units that are occupied because the tenants have no other choice for affordable housing. Find some land in the country and have low-income rental units built for these families - amongst the trees and the fields for the children to play.

Mothers, fathers and children really don't prefer the concrete playgrounds they have on the city streets. Offer tax incentives to builders for building these homes and complexes. Offer another solution for the low-income family and they would be happy to go there; they are downtown out of necessity for affordable housing. In addition to the housing solution, incorporate city buses to commute to workplaces and shopping centers so residents can buy groceries.

And having the city police visible is essential in maintaining a safe environment to walk around on Saturday night. Revitalizing can be done. All it takes is a little imagination, ingenuity and willingness to try something different.

We all know there needs to be something done downtown, and the University System of Maryland is just the beginning. The campus will not be able to bear the full burden of our city's revitalization, but it is a start.

It is up to the leaders of the City of Hagerstown to take it to the next level and I am ready to volunteer to serve on your committee to attract a retail giant.




Nancy S. Allen is a resident of Hagerstown.

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