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Mayor pledges focus on downtown

April 20, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

Seeing downtown crowded at lunchtime but empty at 6 p.m. is "heartbreaking," Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II told a group of business people Wednesday.

Talking to members of the Destination Hagerstown business group, Bruchey said he and the Hagerstown City Council must be "microscopically focused" on making downtown more accessible and appealing.

City council members often have listed downtown projects, like the University System of Maryland campus and a school for the arts on South Potomac Street, as top priorities.

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The proposed 2006-07 city budget includes a proposal to spend $250,000 a year in debt service on a $2.5 million downtown revitalization bond. There are no specific project ideas attached to the bond yet.

Several of the business owners at Wednesday's meeting at Otterbein United Methodist Church on East Franklin Street talked about smaller, daily concerns, particularly parking and public perception.

Most of all, though, they need something to create excitement, some said.

Chris Grant, owner of the Better Food Restaurant on East Washington Street, said music might be the strongest lure.

"That'll draw people from all over the place," he said.

"You have to make it a fun place to be," agreed Steve Colby, a co-owner of Off the Deep End on West Antietam Street.

Even interesting window-shopping can be enough to bring in pedestrians, he said.

Colby said Cumberland, Md., has done a good job of planning popular downtown events, attracting hundreds and even thousands of shoppers and diners who listen to four or five bands a night.

Destination Hagerstown has held similar evenings on a lower scale - and with less success. Valerie Minteer of Cloak & Cupboard Antiques in Public Square said organizing the events has been "extremely difficult" for business owners with little spare time.

After some time off, the First Friday events returned this month. For a period, they were once a week, but now will be once a month. The next one will be May 5.

Bruchey said business owners have to combat the sentiment that downtown is unsafe and has no parking. Neither is true, he said.

Visitors to downtown forget about the parking deck that has hundreds of spaces and is free on weekends, he said. Bruchey suggested a neon sign to direct motorists into the parking deck.

The mayor said he favors putting a restaurant in the vacant Tusing warehouse on East Washington Street.

He also proposed a partnership between the downtown's "specialty shops" and Prime Outlets at Hagerstown. The stores are different and would not steal business from each other, he said.

Bruchey said he soon will set up a meeting with Destination Hagerstown and other city-focused groups, like Greater Hagerstown and Neighborhoods First, to talk more about downtown.

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