Reinvented agency adds 'Disque drive' to spur development

July 21, 2005|by BOB MAGINNIS

Two local organizations dedicated to promoting home ownership and redevelopment in Hagerstown have merged under the leadership of Sharon Disque, an experienced economic development official.

The Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership Inc., and The Hagerstown Home Store merged on July 1, according to Richard Phoebus, a longtime civic activist who has been promoting the revival of Hagerstown's center city in general and the East End in particular.

Phoebus said this week that the merger talk started at the suggesting of Pat McMillan, The Home Store's outgoing executive director.

After some discussion, Phoebus said, it was decided to combine the agencies, since both have as their mission the improvement of the city's housing stock.


The Home Store, which helps first-time home buyers through the process, will continue as it has, acting as a division of HNDP, Phoebus said.

Three directors from The Home Store board will shift to the new board, acting as a subcommittee to oversee their former agency's operations.

HNDP, on the other hand, will focus more on facilitating change and putting together partnerships, Disque said.

When it comes to such activities, Disque knows what she's talking about. Back in the late 1990s, when the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic development Commissioner was without a director, Disque and fellow economic development coordinator Beverly Baccala put together some impressive projects, including the Staples distribution center, Purina Mills and Phillips Driscopipe.

"She has extensive knowledge of economic development. She has a bachelor's in economics from the University of Virginia and a master's in real estate from Johns Hopkins University," Phoebus said.

"But what really impressed me was how well she knew the players involved," he said.

Though Disque left the EDC to become CSX's industrial development director for much of the northeastern U.S., she continued to do projects in Western Maryland. Only when her job was moved to New Jersey did she decide to try something else, she said.

Though she was given a consulting contract for HNDP's Baltimore Street project on the Massey property, Phoebus said the group did a search for an executive anyway.

Many good candidates applied, but none with Disque's development experience, Phoebus said.

Under her leadership, The Home Store won't be an afterthought, Phoebus said.

"We can see down the road some synergies to what both do, because we'll be trying to make sure that in every development that there's a percentage set aside for workforce housing," Phoebus said.

Asked how the new combined agency will be funded, Phoebus said the Hagerstown-Washington-County Industrial Foundation made a three-year commitment of $50,000 a year, which had to be matched from private sources. And there will be a variety of grant funding, he said.

Some of that money could help new homeowners with repairs to properties, provided they meet income guidelines and live there for at least five years, he said.

On the Baltimore Street housing project, Disque said that requests for proposals were sought and several have been received.

Great care is being taken on this first project, she said, adding that the land sale will not actually take place until all the required approvals have been done, to enhance its chances for success.

"We'll also require the developer to do a market analysis, so that they can show us that what they've planned will succeed in this market," she said.

"It will probably be five or six months until we see a transaction," she said.

In what is a hot real-estate market, there are many people who have ideas for possible developments, some of which are more likely to work than others.

To help people evaluate their idea's chances of success, Disque said she's developing a set of criteria.

"It comes down to encouraging the opportunities that will actually make money," she said.

At the same time she notes that HNDP is not in business to compete with private development, but to assist with projects that might not otherwise get done.

If Disque is not a household name, it's only because she cares more about getting the job done than getting a lot of credit for it. In a city where big egos can wreak havoc on a project, I'm glad HNDP has a leader who knows that success is not a trophy for one person, but a banquet to be shared with all who contribute to it.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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