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What happened to the vision and passion for downtown Hagerstown?

October 16, 2005|By Steve Sager

Moving the Washington County offices out of downtown Hagerstown, out of the County Seat, is an idea that should be quickly dismissed.

Longstanding adopted public policy speaks to downtown as the center of government offices - all levels of government. As well, longstanding public policy speaks to preserving agricultural land. These two public policies work hand in hand - a reality that is often overlooked.

These longstanding public policies of the county and the city speak to a variety of other issues that would be violated if the county's offices were to move to the edge of suburbia where it meets farmland.

These longstanding policies are deeply embedded in the county's Comprehensive Plan as well as the city's. They are deeply embedded in state policies as well.

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Beyond the violation of these long standing adopted public policies I've got to ask: Where is the vision? Where is the passion necessary to achieve the vision?

If the County Commissioners "don't get it" about community, then we are all in for a long ride. As isolated uses develop as "campuses," the interaction that is community rapidly erodes.

Also eroding is that necessary "critical mass" of interaction of people, commerce, government, recreation, etc., that is a community. The human aspect that is today's hub in "Hub City."

Downtown redevelopment is a major goal of the community. Yet at major opportunities to take key steps toward that goal, too many in the community want to pass on the chance in favor of another isolated "campus." Keep unraveling the fabric of a community and you will no longer have a community.

Examples, the big fight over University System of Maryland, the Elizabeth Hager Center, the hospital, etc.

Imagine for a moment what the center of our community would look like today if these buildings were well into 50-plus years of blight and deterioration right on our Public Square, rather than having become an attractive "addition" to our community.

Where is the vision? Where is the passion?

Imagine the loss resulting from an empty Town Center building following the move of Frostburg State to the "campus" by the cow fields as once was proposed.

Where is the vision? Where is the passion?

Imagine if the opportunity had been lost to renovate the beautiful Baldwin House. The result would have been an empty rundown behemoth entering its second decade of decay and emptiness since there was no major use for such a large building again because of the "campus" near the cows.

Where is the vision? Where is the passion?

Imagine the negative result if the community had lost the opportunity to renovate and reuse the former W.O.W. building on N. Potomac Street.

It would still be vacant and decaying. Now place that negative image alongside the reality of the attractive hub of activity now known as the Department of Social Services, now located in an attractive, renovated and substantial office building.

Where is the vision? Where is the passion?

Then imagine the loss of building investment, business location and people that have been "spun off" the activity of just the four projects listed above.

Where is the vision? Where is the passion?

Now imagine the loss of the county's offices. Yes the buildings remain, but the people will be gone. The employees, the citizens visiting their local government offices all of them gone. These are the activities that constitute and strengthen the fabric of our community.

Where is the vision? Where is the passion?

The issues are not just buildings and their appearance. Obviously, and yet so often overlooked by the "campus" types, is the impact of real life humans who work in the offices, go to the buildings for services, go to the university building not just for classes, but for a wide variety of meetings through out the day.

Where is the vision? Where is the passion?

Because these major projects are woven into our community's fabric that fabric -social, physical and financial- is stronger.

Where is the vision? Where is the passion?

Subtract these major projects, other major projects and the investment, improvements and social activity and you don't have much strength to the fabric.

And yet the calculation behind the move is that they might save money on maintenance and operating expenses. There has been no mention of the other very tangible costs of debt service for the move's estimated $8 million cost.

Nor has there been any discussion, in the terms of economists, of the "internal cost of the externalities."

In English, that means the costs to our community of the negative impact from moving out of downtown.

Where is the vision? Where is the passion?

Apparently the vision and passion are not yet where they belong. Let's hope the passion and the vision soon get to where they need to be.

Steve Sager was the mayor of Hagerstown for 1985 to 1997.

He is currently town manager of Indian Head, Md.

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