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'State of the City' message: Private investment the key

March 08, 2007

Hagerstown Mayor Robert Bruchey II didn't come right out and say it in his 2007 "State of the City" address, but the truth was there for all discerning listeners to hear:

· Most of the recent progress made in downtown came because of private investment, not government intervention.

Investors such as Mike Deming of Demcore Development have recognized that retail and commercial ventures won't succeed without people living downtown who have some disposable income.

And so at the same time he put together two new restaurants, Deming is also moving ahead with residential and office condominiums.

Deming is not the only one in the condominium business, but at least in the downtown core, he is the key player.

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What can government do to help him and others with similar ideas? We have a couple of thoughts, including:

· Make the permit process as easy as possible and consider some tax credits of the type the city used more than 20 years ago to delay the property-tax impact of redevelopment for several years.

Encourage local business groups and those bringing conventions to Hagerstown to hold some of their events downtown.

· Do whatever is needed to jumpstart the Baltimore Street townhouse project that was scheduled to replace the Massey Body Shop there.

Last November, city officials said market conditions - houses selling more slowly than they had been - were delaying the project. Here is where a government incentive of some sort might help, particularly if the units were priced so that middle-class families could afford them.

We also would like to hear more about the plan Councilman Lewis Metzner talked about to build a large public safety building on West Franklin Street to house police, firefighters, parole and probation officials and public defenders.

Our question: Is a new building really needed, given the amount of existing office space available in and around the downtown area? Perhaps there are good reasons for a new building, but first we would like to hear why re-using existing space would not work.

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