Business owners hold meeting about downtown

Speakers, audience discuss Hagerstown development

Speakers, audience discuss Hagerstown development

October 25, 2007|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN ? Charles Sekula said he attributes 20 years of success as a business owner in downtown Hagerstown to hard work.

"People never thought I'd make it after three months," said Sekula, owner of the Schmankerl Stube Bavarian Restaurant at the corner of Antietam and South Potomac streets. "I made liars out of them. We're still here."

Sekula, along with developers Edward "Skip" Tovornik Jr. and Jason Goldberg, spoke about progress in downtown Hagerstown to roughly 55 people who attended a public meeting Thursday morning at City Hall.

The meeting was organized by Deborah Everhart, the city's director of economic development.

Tovornik, who is renovating the former Holiday Motel on North Prospect Street, told the audience about his plans to convert the building for use as office space by the end of 2008.


When the project is finished, small-business owners will have the opportunity to buy their own office rather than lease from someone else, he said.

"We can bring back what the town was many years ago," he said.

All three speakers said opportunity abounds in downtown Hagerstown.

Goldberg, development coordinator for MADCAM development of Potomac, Md., said he came to Hagerstown a year ago and discovered the best investment opportunities in the city were downtown. Since then, he said, he has purchased and renovated about 100 apartments on East Franklin and Washington streets.

"Many of them were uninhabitable," Goldberg said. "(There is) less than a 5 percent vacancy rate today."

Rent on the apartments ranges in price from about $550 to $750 a month, depending on the size, he said.

A member of the audience asked Sekula whether he thought the downtown was improving, considering several bars are springing up to replace ones that authorities closed to curb unfavorable behavior.

"Bars are necessary in an arts and entertainment district, but they need to be monitored," Sekula said.

The new owners are doing a good job of making adjustments to ensure things remain under control, he said.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen D. Robison of Otterbein United Methodist Church asked city staff members whether they plan to focus on the rest of the city when the restoration downtown is completed.

Everhart said city officials consider neighborhoods on the fringe of downtown as gateways to the city and promised Robison that they wouldn't be forgotten.

After the meeting, Travon "Stix" Bristol, who recently opened Stix-N-Phrases, an airbrushing business at 55 W. Franklin St., said he attended to network with other business owners.

He said Sekula's speech about the importance of customer service was helpful, but it didn't answer his question about marketing. Stix-N-Phrases opened in January, yet people still tell him they have no idea the business exists, he said.

"I think (the meeting) was a start," he said. "At least people get to learn about other businesses and what's going on out here."

Everhart said the city plans to hold the meetings quarterly with different speakers.

"My hope is to continue them indefinitely," she said.

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