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Without baseball, BOE, can downtown be revitalized?

February 28, 2013

What a difference a matter of weeks makes. A recent flicker of promise for downtown Hagerstown now seems just that: A random spark that, untended, will die out before having a chance to catch.

The newly elected city council came into office late last year, inheriting a reasonably well-developed plan for a downtown multi-purpose stadium that was to primarily serve the Hagerstown Suns minor league baseball team.

The new council’s first action, just about, was to kill those plans. While it might have been politically popular in the moment, it now is becoming clear that the council just might have killed the downtown with the same bullet.

Reading between the lines, it appears the board of education has little to no interest in moving its central offices downtown if there is no stadium. The board understandably is willing to be part of a solution, but it does not want to go it alone.

A week after being given the news, the council still seems to be spinning its wheels when it comes to formulating a response.

Now, with two major construction projects and one, probably two major tenants out of the picture, we wonder how interested the Sora development group will be in pursuing plans for a major city renewal project.

Who will be the tenants? Who will be the lease payers? How is the private half of a public-private partnership to recoup its investment?

If Sora has been watching Hagerstown for the past two months, all it knows about the city is its serial inability to come through on a major project.

The blame, it should be noted, does not rest solely at the feet of the current council. The past council ostensibly realized that the new ballpark was only one piece of a very comprehensive pie. Unfortunately, it chose not to share these visions with the public, so — not aware of the grand design — city residents became fixated on the stadium and elected a new council because of it.

So here we sit in a very bad place.

It is never a good idea to rush into major decisions, but if the current council doesn’t come up with something soon, the slim hopes that remain to lock in the school board and the Hagerstown Suns will evaporate once and for all.

At this point, we believe that the city is in desperate enough straits that caution is an unaffordable luxury. The current city council killed the Baltimore Street baseball stadium with eyes open, and with that decision the council — perhaps unintentionally — lost a lot of other potential development as well.

So now the council is running short on time to explain to residents what its ideas are to save the downtown. Beyond that is the very real possibility that the solid opportunities envisioned by the last council will be lost.

Hagerstown needs some semblance of a plan, and it needs one fast. The clock is ticking.

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