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Deming develops downtown

January 28, 2007|by TAMELA BAKER

Editor's note:This is the first of a series of stories on the redevelopment of downtown Hagerstown.




HAGERSTOWN - Mike Deming says some people think he's crazy.

But he's OK with that.

In fact, he thrives on it.

"I love taking something the majority of people think won't work, and making it work," Deming said.

As if to prove the point, Deming, 29, has been busy renovating a number of buildings in a part of town that many locals, frankly, had given up on.

His plan? To turn downtown Hagerstown into a vibrant district that's "a little bit of Georgetown, a little bit of historic Frederick ... and maybe a little bit of Miami."

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With a sweeping view of Public Square in the window behind him, Deming spoke from his Demcore Development conference room this week about his commitment to downtown Hagerstown.

That he should make a career of development was, perhaps, inevitable. On both sides of his family are developers, contractors or builders. His father worked for a large development company in the Washington area.

"I started on job sites when I was 10 years old, picking up trash," Deming recalled.

As Deming grew up, he said, he "hopped around job sites," picking up a little more than trash - it was a practical education that added to his formal business training at the University of Baltimore, as did the technology business he had in the Towson, Md., area while he was in school.

"From very early, I knew this was what I wanted to do," he said.

But why Hagerstown?

"I researched what I thought would be the next market," Deming said.

He first looked at Frederick, Md. "But I realized Frederick was too big" - that market was drawing big developers, he said.

Deming also looked at Carroll and Howard counties in Maryland as well as places in West Virginia. But the size and architecture of Hagerstown's building stock caught his eye.

He started by buying and renovating a Madison Avenue apartment building. He filled it with tenants, and bought a few more apartment buildings.

After renovating and selling apartment buildings, Deming started buying mixed-use properties. He estimates that he now owns "about 20" buildings in Hagerstown, 10 to 12 of which are in the downtown core.

Deming already has opened restaurants on both sides of the first block of South Potomac Street, and right now, he said, he has three projects "in simultaneous development." He's planning several residential condominiums for downtown Hagerstown, which plays into the city's long-held stance that more residential property owners in the area would spur commercial business downtown.

And he's convinced they'll sell.

"The interest is there, or I wouldn't be doing this," he insisted.

Fitting the pieces together

For decades, various groups and studies have suggested it would take a healthy mix of retail and residential redevelopment to make downtown Hagerstown a bustling business community again. Other studies have focused on how to draw people downtown. Deming said he's seen "bits and pieces" of those studies, but that hasn't been the genesis of his own development plans.

"A lot of it is gut, quite frankly," he said. "You can talk a lot, but at some point you gotta just jump in the pond. I don't usually just put my toe in."

Deming said he focused on condominiums because he believes they will meet a housing need in Hagerstown.

"There are few new units that are affordable," he said. "There's a need for starter homes or for baby boomers" who are downsizing. "Those are the people that have expressed interest."

Deming said he believes the condos he and other developers are offering in or near downtown Hagerstown will give young professionals and others their first chance for homeownership.

"A lot of people can't afford to live east of here," he said.

But Deming admits it's a double-edged sword.

"On the flip side, what we're doing and other developers are doing will continue to raise property values," he said.

Deming has had a little firsthand experience with being priced out of the market.

"I grew up in Howard County," he said. "When I started this business, I couldn't afford to live there."

Deming doesn't have a real formula for what he develops, and he doesn't have a timeline for when all of his projects will be "finished."

"There are very specific types of places that need to be established; they have to complement each other," he said. "You've got to put the right pieces together ... this isn't a six-month plan; this is years. And it evolves every day."

Many of Deming's buildings are in the city's Arts and Entertainment District, and he said that is a consideration when he looks for commercial tenants for his buildings. But it's not the bottom line.

"For retail, you have to look at unique kinds of shops," he said. "If it fits in 'arts and entertainment,' that's fine."

He's adamant about the need for both downtown.

"Live entertainment is a big part of what we're trying to do," he said.

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