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City, county officials focus on downtown revitalization during joint meeting

February 19, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Downtown revitalization continues to be a topic of discussion for City of Hagerstown officials, but getting Washington County behind any major urban renewal project — at least financially — depends heavily on the city first establishing specific redevelopment plans, one county commissioner said Tuesday.

“When you have a plan, we will certainly listen to it again,” Commissioner William B. McKinley told city council members during a joint meeting Tuesday between the two elected bodies at City Hall.

Last year, the city and county agreed to a funding formula that would have allocated $800,000 annually over 20 years toward the construction of the city’s previously eyed downtown multiuse stadium, which was supported by commissioners at the time because a feasibility study showed that the proposed project had the potential to boost property values and spur additional economic development.

McKinley’s comments came after a request from City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, asking the county to reaffirm its commitment toward a new downtown project, specifically the relocation of the county board of education’s central offices to downtown.

“I would just ask that we recommit those funds,” Metzner said, referring to a potential BOE project. “... I’m just asking that we have that continued commitment.”

Mayor David S. Gysberts said after the meeting that his goal moving forward is to make “a lot of progress” toward developing a comprehensive master redevelopment plan for the city over the next six months.

Gysberts, who said he believes Hagerstown has “a bulls-eye on it” for development as soon as the economy turns around, said a master plan of projects also would provide a framework for the city to pursue partnerships with private entities in support of its revitalization goals.

“I think we are definitely interested in getting something going here in Hagerstown when it comes to ... major public-private partnerships,” the mayor said.

Tuesday also served as the first joint meeting between the two elected bodies since the new city administration took office this past November.

Other topics of discussion included the county’s Strategic Economic Plan, recently unveiled by the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Commissioners said they accepted the report earlier Tuesday and are now waiting for the EDC to return with its top five priorities for consideration moving forward.

Gysberts said he noticed several projects listed in the EDC’s report on which the city and county could work together.

Terry L. Baker, president of the county commission, said the meeting was a good opportunity to meet the new group, which includes four new faces from the previous city administration, and it was a good start to discussions about how the city and county can collaborate on projects.

“Everybody’s going to leave the table today with something to grasp and really think about further,” Baker said, noting that any project that increases the city’s assessable tax base also benefits the county. “If the City of Hagerstown is successful, that’s going to mean that Washington County is successful.”

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