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Downtown considers Main Street program

July 29, 2005|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

HAGERSTOWN

daniels@herald-mail.com

A Main Street Maryland program could be just the thing to centralize Hagerstown's revitalization efforts, business and community leaders said.

Officials from Main Street Maryland and the National Trust For Historic Preservation's National Main Street Center met with a small group of community and business leaders Thursday to discuss the program and explore how Hagerstown could benefit from it.

The meeting was organized by Steve Colby, owner of Off the Deep End, and attended by members of Destination Hagerstown, Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce President Brien Poffenberger, City of Hagerstown Administrator Bruce Zimmerman and Economic Development Director Deborah Everhart.

Colby said while several groups in the city are working toward the same objective, there is not enough communication between them to make their efforts effective.

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"I sit on some boards, and I attend some meetings, and it's my own perspective âEUR¦ we have a number of people in a number of groups that never talk to each other," he said. "I don't see an umbrella that allows people to communicate."

Kevin Baynes, director of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development's neighborhood revitalization division, which oversees the Main Street Maryland program, said a lack of cohesion among community groups is not uncommon in the towns he has worked with and that Main Street programs can help bring those groups together and "âEUR¦ give them a seat at the table."

"We have the same objectives you have, we're looking to make these downtowns vital again," Baynes said. "This is an opportunity to bring everybody together to help grow in the same direction."

Participants agreed there are uncertainties that will need to be resolved if the idea is to move forward ? whether to try for it, who would run such an organization and coordinate its efforts and who would fund the salary of a full-time Main Street manager over the next three years.

To participate in the program, a group would need to lead the efforts and submit a formal application to the state. Baynes said in some towns that group has been the government, while in others it has been a nonprofit.

Colby said he was encouraged by the presentation and would like the city to participate but is unsure of whether Destination Hagerstown's membership will want to take the lead role. He said he will gather feedback and determine where to go from there.

Zimmerman said tthe city council and the mayor would need to determine whether the city should provide funding for a program if an outside organization like Destination Hagerstown chose to take the lead.

"I think we've got a good base to work from," Zimmerman said. "Clearly, the city's been very, very supportive of the downtown. On that question (of funding), we would have to go back to the mayor and council."

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