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Concern about Friday events winding down

August 03, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- Several business owners in the heart of Hagerstown's Arts & Entertainment District say they like the idea of closing the first block of South Potomac Street to traffic during Wind Down Fridays, and the fire chief has withdrawn his objections.

The events, which feature food and live music, began July 10 and run through Sept. 18. On July 21, the Hagerstown City Council agreed to close the street on the nights of the events from 5 to 9 p.m.

Wind Down Fridays is a fundraiser for the theater, and some see closing the street in conjunction with the weekly event as a way to bring foot traffic to the area.

Hamada "Ham" Abuzayyad, owner of the Oasis Hookah Lounge & Cafe at 53 S. Potomac St., said the Friday night street closure doesn't last long enough.

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He said he thought that block of South Potomac Street should remain closed until about 1 a.m. Saturday because the younger crowd doesn't start coming downtown until late Friday.

"Otherwise it would be meaningless," Abuzayyad said.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said some city officials are considering whether to extend the time that the street is closed to 10:30 p.m.

"I think it's a good thing," Bruchey said. "That would give people the opportunity to celebrate Wind Down Fridays."

Bruchey said he might take the proposal to the council before the end of the summer.

Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said he was concerned last month when he heard the council was considering shutting down that portion of the street. As a result, he prepared a memorandum for Bruchey and the City Council, in which he said closing the street would "delay our normal response time" because emergency vehicles would have to be rerouted.

"We don't feel that allowing a couple of hundred people to walk on the street instead of the sidewalks that were widened for that very purpose is in the best safety interest of our 38,000 residents, especially those in our South End," Hawbaker wrote.

Hawbaker said he changed his mind when the mayor and council agreed to block the street with cones that easily could be removed to allow emergency vehicles to pass.

About 125 people attended Wind Down Fridays last week, said Jay Constantz, executive director of The Maryland Theatre.

South Potomac Street was relatively free of foot traffic during Friday's event. For a short time, people used the empty street to hold wheelchair races.

Dave Peacher, owner of The Peach Pub at 43 S. Potomac St., said he believed the street closure and Wind Down Fridays had "the potential to be something good."

"We'll just have to see how it goes," he said.

Peacher said he thought foot traffic on South Potomac Street was sparse on Friday because it rained earlier in the day.

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