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Former Hagerstown warehouse transformed into theater, convention center

October 24, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- Another piece of the puzzle has been laid to revitalize downtown Hagerstown with the opening of the Academy Theater, Banquet and Convention Center at 58 E. Washington St.

On Thursday, co-owners Mike Guessford and Milton Stamper offered a tour of the 30,000-square-foot facility, which once housed the Tusing Warehouse, to about 65 people. Those in attendance split into two groups, taking turns perusing the 208-seat theater on the first floor and a banquet room of equal size upstairs.

Guessford said the Academy is open for business and offers a perfect venue for corporate dinners, class reunions and wedding receptions.

The theater portion will serve as the home of the Potomac Playmakers, a community theater group.

"I think it turned out fantastic," Guessford said. "It reminds you of the off-Broadway theaters."

Stamper said the $1.3 million project took about 18 months to complete and required about 60 employees from 12 local subcontractors. A big part of the funding, or about $558,000, came from state loans, he said. The City of Hagerstown gave a $100,000 advance through the municipal Revolving Loan Fund, and bank loans and private investments paid for the rest.

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"This can be used as a mini-convention center," Stamper said. "We think we can serve the community well."

Stamper said the building had three levels when the project began, but workers tore out the second floor to give the theater a high ceiling. Sound technicians were brought in to ensure the sound from the stage would project evenly, he said. The theater floor is sloped, and each row of seats is staggered to improve the audience's vision.

The city purchased the Tusing Warehouse in 1998 as part of a deal that involved several properties along East Washington and Franklin streets, City Economic Development Director Deborah Everhart said.

The building was vacant for eight years until Guessford and Stamper came forward in 2006 with a vision for its use. Stamper purchased the property from the city last year for $110,000.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said the idea to create a theater and convention center was perfect for the city's revitalization plan for downtown.

Over the past few years, the downtown has witnessed the opening of several new restaurants, including Duffy's on Potomac, The Peach Pub and last week's opening of Bulls & Bears.

Bruchey said other plans for downtown include widening the sidewalk on North Potomac Street and enlarging an alley that leads to the parking deck in the Arts and Entertainment District.

"I'm very excited," Bruchey said. "I think we're moving in the right direction ... We're making progress."

Those wishing information or to reserve the Academy Theater, Banquet and Convention Center may call 301-797-5755.

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