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Downtown Hagerstown development board should be diverse

September 04, 2011|By ART CALLAHAM

Last week, I used this column to suggest that the City of Hagerstown create a Community Development Corporation to develop and execute a vision for the downtown. I did not intend to criticize or judge, merely to point out that to my knowledge there is not a cohesive plan to move the downtown forward. I’d like to define in this week’s column who I suggest should make up a CDC Board.

Other than some time spent doing a little community development here locally, I have no particular bona fides to support my opinion. I offer it merely to solicit comments with the hope that somewhere soon “we” can begin making our downtown a thriving and prosperous part of the city and county.

As a short refresher, here is a national consultant’s view of a CDC: “up front, a CDC brings together government, financial and development folks creating a one stop shop to plan, fund and execute projects and/or programs.” A CDC should be made up of private sector and public sector folks, each having the ability to get decisions made.

The CDC would not circumvent the power of elected government officials or the responsible decision makers in private sector organizations; however, an active CDC should have the power to move decision makers along, realizing that either “go” or “no go” are perfectly acceptable answers.

Usually, the only bad decision is “maybe” or “let’s think about it.” That type of decision wastes time and/or indicates that there has not been complete planning. Hopefully, a CDC will, by doing work up front, ensure that a complete plan has been assembled.

With that refresher, the following is my opinion about the makeup of a CDC. First, aside from staff, a healthy CDC will have no more than 12 members. Since initially the focus of the CDC will be on downtown development, the chairperson and first member should be the mayor, not a substitute.

Next, the president of the board of county commissioners and the chairperson of our local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly are both musts. I would accept the delegate from subdistrict 2C, which is essentially the city, as long as the emphasis is on downtown or city development. If and when the CDC’s scope expands to include the entire county, then it’s the chair of the delegation who must be the member.

Since public education is already a part of the fiber of the downtown, I suggest, on an alternating two-year appointment, the superintendent of public schools and the executive director of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.

The president of the Washington County Arts Council, the chairperson of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the president of the board of the United Way represent business, the arts and the not-for-profits; all three are a significant part of a thriving downtown.

For financial community input, I would set up a one-year rotating schedule of local bankers; one banker, specifically the president, CEO or regional manager, from Susquehanna, M&T, Columbia Bank, Centra Bank, Tower Bank and PNC. (If I missed a bank with significant local ties, let’s add them to the rotation.)

Finally, on alternating two-year appointments, the publisher of The Herald-Mail and the general manager of WHAG-TV are also in the must category.

These nine could then appoint three “at-large members” to round out the 12. My suggestion for these appointments would include, but not be limited to, functionaries like a developer, retailer, professional, builder, real estate broker, securities broker, union representative or a city dweller with a passion for downtown revitalization.

Backing up the 12 would be an ad hoc staff of lawyers, government planners, permits and inspections folks, historic trust planners, public safety planners, etc. The concept is to develop a “near perfect” plan, vet it publicly in a collaborative fashion and create the cohesive energy to move the plan forward.

As a CDC, the members could create their own vision, or vet and enhance plans brought to them from other entities. Again, the idea is to get it right the first time, up front and then move to implement.

I welcome your comments, however, no personal slams about individuals that occupy positions I have suggested as the board of the CDC. If you don’t like the suggested position, say so. If you don’t like the idea, say so. If you have a better idea, let’s hear it.


Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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