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City's pact with Sora team a move in right direction

March 13, 2013

The Hagerstown City Council made some tentative progress Friday toward what it hopes will be a kickstart for downtown commerce, inking a nonbinding agreement with the Sora development group that will allow the organization to formulate plans for future growth.

It might be too little too late. Time will tell. But it conceivably could put downtown revitalization in the hands of professionals who have established track records in other communities.

The agreement allows the Sora team to do some legwork and explore the redevelopment possibilities. It also allows representatives of Sora to open development discussions on the council’s behalf and cites eight specific areas of concentration, ranging from parking decks to health care facilities. It anticipates upgrades to The Maryland Theatre, one of the jewels of downtown, and lends encouragement to construction of a downtown Board of Education central office.

The council did attempt to keep all developers — local and nonlocal — happy, by emphasizing that the deal does not give Sora the exclusive right to downtown land deals. But given Sora’s own blueprints, it appears that anyone with the commitment and the capital will be invited to take part.

That’s good, because the job is probably bigger than any one entity can tackle on its own. We just hope the city council itself buys in when the time comes. Sora is a private corporation and is not stepping in to assist with city revitalization out of the goodness of its heart. Nor should it be expected to.

That means that Sora will need to be compensated, be it from the city or from state funding — which it will lobby for in Annapolis, as stated in the agreement.

Obviously, the city has a duty to ensure that there’s a pretty good chance Sora can deliver the goods before writing the company a fat check. But Sora has been in the community for months now, and we can’t imagine that the city hasn’t already performed considerable due diligence checking the group’s track record. If Sora was not what it is claiming to be, it seems the city would know it by now.

While we wish the city were moving with a greater sense of urgency — the clock is ticking on minor league baseball and the potential for a downtown central office for the BOE — we do understand its concerns and applaud even somewhat shaky steps in the right direction.

But at some point, the city will have to pull the trigger on something. Councilman Lewis Metzner said of last week’s agreement that it is a chance for Sora to “put their money where their mouth is.” Sooner rather than later, the city will have to do the same.

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