Hagerstown officials not satisfied with status quo in city's center

October 25, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER |

HAGERSTOWN — Despite the city’s investment downtown, Hagerstown officials said Tuesday they are dissatisfied with the status quo in the city’s center.

City staff members presented the five-member city council with a clear picture of the downtown area — empty storefronts, low-income housing and negative public perception — along with a strategy to change its future.

“Downtown is not where we want it to be,” City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said. “Downtown will always be a core responsibility of the city, but we are not the sole entity responsible for determining the success of downtown.”

Economic recession, “disinvestment” and lack of support have all led to the current situation downtown, Zimmerman said.

But the city has been making efforts to improve the city center, he said.

Each council member was given a report that detailed about a decade of investment into downtown Hagerstown.

Despite those efforts, Zimmerman said the projects in that document did not have the impact the city hoped when it came to revitalizing the city center.

Admitting openly that the downtown faces challenges and has problems was appreciated, Councilman Forrest W. Easton said.

However, Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood noted that while the document contained information on what the city invested, it did not detail the return it received on its investment.

She asked the city to come up with a means of tracking the results of its plans for improving downtown. Knowing that information is vital for a business owner, she said.

Perception commanded some of the discussion Tuesday evening.

Councilman William Breichner, who said some people say they don’t feel safe downtown, asked what could be changed regarding police presence to allay that fear.

Councilman Martin Brubaker said the city had a past reputation of being an obstacle to progress and investment.

Noting how that has changed, he asked developers to reconsider the city and “try us.”

Compared to the days when Hagerstown was known for its drinking establishments, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said that the perception of downtown has improved.

Yet he, like Haywood, encouraged the city to set a standard and focus on bringing major employers to the downtown area that will breed other businesses.

Now could also be time to “dust off” some of the older strategic plans for downtown, and make needed additions and deletions, Easton said.

Calling the whole community to action, Zimmerman asked people to put aside the negativity and come together to work on Hagerstown’s future.  

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II challenged developers and the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission to give the city a shot next time a large business looks to locate in Washington County.

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