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Stop wasting time, money

sell Tusing Warehouse now

January 30, 2007

In November 1997, the City of Hagerstown bought a three-story brick building in the rear of 58 E. Washington St. The purchase price, which included an adjacent parking lot, was $360,000.

For 10 years, the council has dithered around, looking at one proposal and then another. All the while, the building, known as the Tusing Warehouse, has sat idle - not bringing in a dollar of tax revenue.

Now that there is what seems to be a viable offer for the property from a company that has plans to put it to productive use, it's time to let this property go. Sell it now, before the developer decides it will never happen.

Why did what should have been a simple project take so long?

Two years after the purchase, the council was approached by Discovery Station, a nonprofit group that wanted to create an interactive science museum there that - it was hoped - would become a destination attraction for downtown.

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In 1999, the council gave Discovery Station a five-year, $1-a-year lease, with an option to buy for $110,000.

Fundraising began, but in 2003, the nonprofit's officials told the city that their consultant had told them they would quickly outgrow Tusing's 9,000-plus square feet.

After some brief consideration of using the site for a bus-transfer point, in October 2003, the city sought proposals from developers.

Three applied in January 2004 and the nod went to a Frederick, Md., attorney, who had planned a first-floor restaurant and apartments or office space above.

More than a year later, in March of 2005, the attorney's partner had withdrawn and the council seemed split between giving him more time to find other investors or starting to use the warehouse for city events.

In August 2005, Hagerstown Economic Development Director Debbie Everhart came to the council and told them the would-be developer wouldn't proceed and asked their permission to seek new bids.

Months went by and in February 2006, Everhart came back again, asking whether the city should sell the building, lease it as-is or make renovations and then lease it.

She listed 11 possible uses for the structure, which the council trimmed to three, then told her to seek proposals again.

In July 2006, three companies stepped up and this time all said they would pay the city's $110,000 asking price.

They included:

· Stamper Properties LLC, which proposed a multicultural arts center that would allow the Potomac Playmakers to move there from their long-time home on South Prospect Street.

Wedding receptions could be catered there, the group said, and other community groups could use its space, including the City Ballet School.

· Nordyke Design Group Inc. of Hagerstown offered three possibilities - a specialty resurant, an open market similar to Baltimore's Harbor Place or an office building.

· CHS Inc. of Frederick said its options included an upscale restaurant on the first floor and condominium office space upstairs.

Those proposals were heard in mid-July. Now, just weeks away from a possible sale, some on the council are wondering - again - if the sale might hurt the Blues Fest and Augustoberfest events.

If that was a real concern, why were the latest group of developers asked to put together proposals?

Doing proposals correctly costs money that will be wasted if the council doesn't approve this sale. We won't even talk about whether the staff time spent on this project over the years is more or less than the $110,000 asking price.

Everhart told the council that a sale to the Stamper group could be completed by Feb. 27, if it were approved by Jan. 30.

Time's up. OK the sale now, before the Tusing Warehouse crumbles like an ancient ruin and the developers take their money elsewhere.

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