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Officials begin to identify steps for downtown Hagerstown development plan

January 29, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • This artist's rendering, found on Sora Development's website, shows an aerial view of the planned $300 million Rowan Boulevard redevelopment project in Glassboro, N.J., that serves as a connection between the rapidly growing Rowan University and Glassboro's historic downtown business district. The project, which began in 2009 and includes plans for several mixed-use buildings, student housing facilities and multitier parking garages, is expected to boost the local economy by nearly $50 million annually when it's completed, according to Sora officials.
Submitted photo

Hagerstown City Council members on Tuesday discussed their next step in forging a public-private partnership on a long-term redevelopment plan for the city.

During a 40-minute conversation at City Hall, Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said it’s “paramount” to first identify the players and stakeholders of such a project, stressing the need for a meeting between the city, Washington County Board of Commissioners, county Board of Education and the state delegation as soon as possible.

“In order to develop that public-private financing partnership, you’re going to have to have some agreement by those four bodies, respectively, from a city-, county-, board of education- and state-level process, because not one entity can afford whatever public project ... by itself,” Aleshire said.

A real estate development group, headed by Sora Development, went before the five-member council Jan. 15 to pitch such a project, which was well-received at the city and county level, according to city council members Tuesday.

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Aleshire’s approach, as he explained, would call for the four elected bodies to identify and agree on stakeholder organizations who could then select potential projects that would be considered as part of a master redevelopment plan.

Those stakeholders — such as Hagerstown Community College, Meritus Health, the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, the Hagerstown Suns and others — would be considered the “committee” that would return to their respective elected bodies with project priorities, Aleshire said.

Project ideas, which might include a stadium plan, would then need to be chosen and agreed upon by all four elected bodies, and pitched to the master redevelopment team as anchors for overall redevelopment, Aleshire said.

“Then the private entity can come in and say ‘OK, I see what you want to do. Here’s what we think you can do around it,’” he said. “My expectation isn’t that that private partner is going to be the builder of the board of ed and dictate where it goes. Rather it’s going to be the purveyor ... and say ‘What can we do as part of that on the private side.’”

At that point, planning of project phases and funding models could begin to take shape, he said.

Sora Development officials have told the city that an investment of approximately $1 million to $1.2 million would be needed from the public sector toward the planning of the project, Aleshire said, noting the city’s recent receipt of $625,000 for the sale of the former U.S. Army Reserve property that has been earmarked as a one-time budget expenditure.

It’s important to get the county, as well as the state delegation, on board to help pool resources on a project that all entities can benefit from, council members said.

“You need to prioritize where you’re going to get the biggest bang for the buck on the public money that you invest,” Aleshire said.

The county commissioners previously voted to absorb the city’s $400,000-a-year payment toward the county 911 center, as an indirect contribution toward downtown redevelopment for Hagerstown’s previously eyed multiuse stadium project.

That money would not necessarily be available for another project until a study is presented showing an adequate return on investment, county officials have said.

City Councilman Donald F. Munson said that he feels a stadium project would be an “essential” part of a redevelopment project, saying the public expects the city to move quickly in its push to keep the Hagerstown Suns.

The Suns have told the city they need to see a viable plan for a future location by the start of the baseball season in April.

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