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Plan to revive city's East End should receive a fair hearing

March 29, 2005

Although a group of private institutions and investors has spent $70,000 for a study of redevelopment in Hagerstown's East End, that doesn't mean that heavy construction will begin next week.

According to Richard Phoebus, a long-time civic activist, what the group has now is only "a vision of a plan of what's possible."

The plan hasn't been publicly released, so The Herald-Mail can't take an editorial position on it. But when it is made public, we urge citizens to give it a fair hearing.

Because of the proposed financing method, Phoebus said that both the Hagerstown and Washington County governments will have to debate it publicly before they agree on it.

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And, contrary to what some have said, Phoebus said there is no thought of tearing down any private homes.

Phoebus said the group of institutions and individuals, who he said were mainly business owners, hired the Washington, D.C., consulting firm of Brailsford & Dunlavey to look at a large area in the east end.

Sites in the study include 1st Urban Fiber, Municipal Stadium, Washington County Hospital and The Venice Inn.

Its centerpiece would be the construction of a new minor league baseball stadium on publicly-owned property, but also involves ideas such as the construction of high-end housing on part of the hospital site.

The study found that at an estimated cost of $47 million, construction of a convention center would be too expensive.

Instead, it would make more sense to erect a $9 million to $12 million exhibition hall that could be used for convention-type displays and trade shows, Phoebus said.

The plan involves a number of different parts, including an innovative financing method used only once in this county on the Centre at Hagerstown project. But Phoebus said the success of the plan doesn't depend on every single project becoming a reality.

There is a certain urgency about this now, he said, because in several years, property that is now underutilized will likely be sold for other purposes.

As we said previously, this plan will be debated publicly. Whether it makes sense is something citizens should decide for themselves, but only after they hear the details.

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