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Local business leaders consider joining state Main Street group

July 24, 2005|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

Members of Hagerstown's business community have scheduled an informational meeting this week with state officials to explore taking part in Main Street Maryland, though organizers of the session said no decisions will be made at the meeting.

Steve Colby, owner of Off the Deep End at 339 W. Antietam St. in Hagerstown, said a group of between 10 and 15 business and community leaders will attend the meeting and determine, based upon their reactions, whether to open the matter up to the wider Hagerstown community during a public forum.

He said while some of the city's older businesses had bad experiences with the program years ago, compounded by similar efforts with the city's Downtown Assessment District which expired in the 1990s, there is enough renewed interest within the business community, particularly among its newer members, to at least give the program a second look.

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"Some of us, we're new enough to Hagerstown that we had never experienced that when Hagerstown had been a part of it at one time," Colby said. "We wanted to hear what they had to say."

In addition to business owners, Colby said members of the city, the Greater Hagerstown Committee, the Community Development Corp., and the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce were invited to attend the small-group meeting with program officials.

Kevin Baynes, state coordinator of the Main Street Maryland Program, said in a telephone interview Friday his office routinely conducts such informational meetings and prefers to start the process with a small group of community leaders likely to take a role in the effort. He said in its favor the city is already working on components included with the Main Street program and participating in the program could help organize the ongoing groups and efforts aimed at revitalizing the downtown business district.

"I think that's one thing that Main Street can do is possibly provide a common entity which they all have a seat at the table," he said.

Colby announced the meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, July 28 at the Otterbein United Methodist Church, during a meeting of the Destination Hagerstown downtown merchants group Wednesday. Some of the merchants said they did not want the program to result in just another tax on small business owners though the group as a whole expressed interest in learning more about it.

Deborah Everhart, director of economic development for the City of Hagerstown, told the merchants she and the city will keep an open mind about the program though she is not in favor of unnecessarily taxing downtown merchants as the city is working to revitalize the area.

"We're trying to get the downtown to a certain level, and I don't think taxing the businesses would be a good thing," she said.

If the city decides to participate in the program, it will need to compile a specific list of data on the downtown business district and commit to funding a full-time Main Street manager for three years as part of the application process.

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