Hagerstown city officials sign amended redevelopment plan

March 08, 2013|By HOLLY SHOK and C.J. LOVELACE | and
  • Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner makes a motion Friday to redraft the agreement letter before it's signed between the City of Hagerstown and a real estate investment group allowing the group to act as the "agent" of the city for a redevelopment plan.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Despite some changes in wording ordered after an impromptu meeting Friday morning, City of Hagerstown officials signed a nonbinding agreement later Friday to allow a real estate investment group to act on the city’s behalf in developing a vision for downtown redevelopment.

The amended version, a copy of which was obtained by The Herald-Mail on Friday night, was signed by Mayor David S. Gysberts and four of the five city council members, with Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire being the only signature line left blank.

The five-member council voted 4-1 on Friday morning to amend text and content of the document, which was submitted by local attorney D. Bruce Poole and Dane Bauer, of the engineering firm Daft McCune Walker.

Poole and Bauer, who both still need to sign the document, represent a group that also includes Towson-based Sora Development and Skanska Construction, a multinational firm.

“Once all the signatures are on it, then it becomes official,” Gysberts said Friday afternoon.

When reached for comment Friday night, Bauer said he had seen a copy of the amended document and still planned to sign it despite the changes.

“It’s not a problem for us,” Bauer said, who added that he and Poole are just looking for a chance to show what they could do for the city. “We believe in what we’re doing.”

The original document stated that the development group would act the “agent” of the city in its urban revitalization efforts, but council members instead called for changes before they would sign on.

Amendments included making the agreement “nonbinding” and “nonexclusive,” meaning the city wouldn’t be obligated to use the group for all work associated with downtown redevelopment, Gysberts said. Another change made replaced the term “agent” with “representative.”

“I think ... the goal of the council was to make sure that by signing this letter to allow them to be our representative, it wasn’t precluding us from taking any action or making other commitments with other parties,” the mayor said, who noted the city has received interest from other developers looking to take the lead on the proposed relocation of the Washington County Board of Education to downtown.

Agency relationships are exclusive and allow an agent authority to change legal relationships, city attorney John Urner said.

Under direction of the city’s legal council, the mayor and city council’s amendment specified that Poole and Bauer would be the sole representatives of the group. The original document named an “associated team.”

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he was not comfortable with “unnamed” individuals speaking on the city’s behalf. 

The amendment also requires the group to issue written weekly reports to city staff.

Aleshire was the lone dissenting vote to the motion, saying he did not think the requested amendment goes far enough. He said he wanted an additional change in the use of references to a “master plan,” suggesting the term implied that the group would be the only entity allowed to work on the downtown redevelopment project.

The document outlines eight areas of focus related to downtown development to be undertaken by the group:

• Obtain a “letter of interest” from The Maryland Theatre regarding undertaking upgrades and improvements.

• Obtain the Washington County Board of Education’s endorsement in relocating downtown.

• Obtain funding from Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and state leadership.

• Enlist participation and funding from the Washington County Board of Commissioners and Economic Development Commission.

• Propose a parking garage project using private capital, investment funds and a lease-purchase agreement with the city.

• Enlist support from local businesses in investment and profit sharing opportunities, investment and development groups.

• Obtain a “letter of interest” from Meritus Health to identify downtown health facility projects possibly including a senior center and wellness clinic.

• Further the public-private partnership options for the city and private investors toward identifying “catalyst” projects. 

Prior to the amendment, Urner told council that the agreement, proposed at the March 5 city council meeting, included terminology that was “vague” and “indefinite.”

The amended letter would allow Poole and Bauer to talk with businesses and interested parties on the city’s behalf, resulting in a proposal of projects that would be a starting point for downtown redevelopment.

Metzner said the representatives, operating under the five-week agreement, are expected to solicit state funding for planning purposes. The agreement expires one week after the 2013 session of Maryland’s General Assembly concludes on April 8.

“We know what we would all love to hear, they’re going to come in and say, ‘listen, the Board of Education’s coming downtown, Maryland Theatre’s expanding, Meritus Medical Center is bringing other things downtown and we’re doing a major deal,’” Metzner said of the city’s hopes for what the group will produce. “We’ve asked them to put their money where their mouth is and hopefully we’ll find out soon.”

The three-page agreement does not carry any associated costs to the city.

Gysberts said that if the city chooses to go forward with the development group beyond the five-week period, the group’s initial expenditures would be included in a financial plan.

Confusion exists regarding what the city’s upfront cost would be in planning its downtown redevelopment, due to the group’s intent to lobby for state funding first.

A Feb. 20 letter from Poole to the mayor and council estimated the city would be asked for an up-front investment of $786,500 over a 12-month period.

Bauer told city officials during the March 5 meeting that those costs could be drastically reduced if sufficient funding from state agencies could be secured or the group is able to identify several projects that it could capitalize privately to get the first phase of redevelopment started.

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