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Hancock revitalization in bloom

August 15, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HANCOCK -- It's happening slowly -- a window here, a flower bed there -- but Hancock officials say their push to revitalize downtown by sprucing up properties finally is yielding results.

Driving down Main Street one afternoon last week, T.R. Weaver Sr., the town's part-time marketing director, pointed out the small changes he hopes will make Hancock more attractive to new or relocating businesses.

A broken window replaced on the Veterans of Foreign Wars building. Fresh green siding on a vacant building. An antique store reopened. New, bright-red canopies replacing the faded, pinkish ones at Sheetz.

"What we got is little stuff, but what it is is things that need done that haven't been done in 20 years," Weaver said.

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Turning south on Pennsylvania Avenue, Weaver stopped at the wide, warehouse-like building across from C&O Bicycle. Until recently, the building was a rusty, sheet metal-wrapped eyesore to potential tourists passing the town on the C&O Canal towpath or the Western Maryland Rail Trail, Weaver said.

But the owner, Tom Palacorolla of Elkridge, Md.-based Universal Contractors Inc., recently invested more than $50,000 into a complete renovation, including chocolate-brown siding and new windows, Weaver said.

"That's one of the biggest improvements for this area," he said.

Getting owners to clean and spruce up their properties is part of the first phase of Weaver's plan to breathe some life back into Hancock's local economy, he said. This fall, he intends to shift his focus to a mail and telephone campaign advertising the town to small businesses, particularly tourism-related businesses that could take advantage of traffic on the towpath, rail trail or Potomac River.

To encourage the desired improvements, Weaver sent letters to owners of vacant properties, hosted a meeting and organized a cleanup day in May. Not all of the owners he contacted have been receptive to his campaign, but others he didn't contact read about it in the news and stepped up to do their part, he said.

Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy said the changes made so far have not gone unnoticed.

"They seem small and minuscule, but some of these properties have sat in a state of disrepair for so long, and when people step up and do the right things and clean them up, we get compliments," Murphy said.

Local volunteers also have made a drastic contribution by adopting flower beds throughout the town, filling previously neglected spots with life and color, Murphy said.

Other notable properties include the bed and breakfast that Councilman Sinclair Hamilton opened this spring on Taney Street and a Main Street property where a local gym set up an attractive window display, Murphy said.

The former First National Bank of Greencastle, which recently changed its name to Tower Bank, held a ceremony Friday to celebrate the completion of a renovation project, which included such outdoor touches as a new time-and-temperature sign and fresh landscaping on the bank's parking lot, Murphy said.

The bank also donated $500 to the town to pay for flower baskets to hang from light poles along Main Street, Murphy said. Those baskets were installed last week, he said.

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