Bruchey: Downtown is key to city's future

March 06, 2007|by TAMELA BAKER

Mayor Bob Bruchey touted the redevelopment of downtown Hagerstown as a sign of the city's success in 2006, and floated a few ideas for continued development in his "State of the City" address to the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce this morning.

That he gave the annual address at a downtown venue - Duffy's on Potomac - rather than in a ballroom of one of the city's outlying hotels was symbolic. Bruchey told the group that private investments in the downtown area proved to be "a catalyst for new businesses," he said, noting that 18 new businesses had opened in 2006.

In 2006, he said, private developers invested more than $19 million in downtown building acquisitions, compared to $6.9 million in 2005.

Additionally, the number of new dwelling units in the city had soared in 2005, though it dipped in 2006. "Despite the market slowdown, the permit activity in 2006 was still more than double the volume of 2003," Bruchey said.


"People have clearly seen the value of living in the city," Bruchey said.

This year, Bruchey said he'll push for a plan to encourage redevelopment of upper floors in downtown buildings, offering loans that could turn into grants if certain criteria are met. He also wants to explore offering assistance for redeveloping blighted areas outside the downtown area.

He encouraged his audience to "keep an open mind as we work toward finding solutions."

Audience members questioned Bruchey and members of the Hagerstown City Council about what's next for downtown. Asked specifically about West Franklin Street, Councilman Lew Metzner, who noted he "got headlines when I said it was beginning to resemble a war zone," said preliminary discussions were under way for major projects in the second block of West Franklin - but he cautioned that it would be a five- to 10-year plan.

The idea is to put a large public safety building in that block that would house police, firefighters and offices for public defenders and parole and probation officials.

Presently, he said, "you've got the offices of the public defender, parole and probation, and a homeless shelter all in one blockit's hard to get private investment in such a neighborhood."

If the city goes forward with the plan, he said another parking deck would be needed to accommodate both the departments housed in the building, and other building owners in the area.

"This would be the total redevelopment of an entire city block," he said. "It's a very large thought process to solve a very large problem. It's not gonna be done overnight."

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