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David Hanlin: A week to watch

March 20, 2013|By DAVID HANLIN

Historians sometimes refer to April 1865 as the most important month in U.S. history. Over a two-week period, Union armies captured Richmond, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse and President Lincoln was assassinated. It would be hard to argue that over any two-week period there was a sequence of events with any greater significance for our country.

It won’t rival April 1865, but April 2013 is poised to possibly be among the most important months in Hagers-town’s history.  Decisions over the next month likely will have ramifications for a generation to come. Of course, I am referring to efforts to revitalize downtown Hagerstown. I say “a generation” because history shows that cities that start down the road toward revitalization but see those efforts derailed are usually unable to reignite efforts for as long as a generation.

Prior to January 2012, virtually no voice could be heard urging revitalization of downtown. At the same time, the Hagerstown Suns were poised to leave for Winchester, Va., because of the condition of Municipal Stadium. No one seemed to care. Then, the idea emerged of a new stadium for the Suns to be built downtown. This idea was borrowed from other minor league cities where putting a stadium downtown has stimulated revitalization. A spirited, and at times uncivil, debate has occurred since.  

Now, after 16 months, a consensus seems to have emerged.  The consensus seems to be that there needs to be a comprehensive effort to revitalize downtown and, secondly, Hagerstown needs a new stadium. What makes April 2013 so important is that events are in motion that will force decisions to be made.   

Events start to unfold the afternoon of Tuesday, April 2. The Board of Education has an option for the purchase of the Allegheny Energy building to become its administrative offices. The option expires April 5. At the previous week’s work session, staff will have presented the results of their due diligence about the potential purchase and occupancy of this building. The Board of Education will have to respond at the April 2 meeting. Unless a special meeting is called, the Board of Education will have to vote to either exercise the option to purchase the Downsville Pike property or to purchase an option extension. Otherwise, the option will lapse.

Later that afternoon, Hagerstown City Council might receive a report from Ripken Design Group on its analysis of two additional stadium sites. The group was retained to update its April 2012 study to examine the former hospital site and another near Municipal Stadium. The report is supposed to be submitted to the City by March 30. Given this council’s desire for transparency and openness, citizens might expect a public presentation on its conclusions as soon as April 2. 

Across the state, in Salisbury, the Hagerstown Suns take the field for Opening Day on April 4. The last time Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn spoke to the city council, he served notice that he needed a decision from the city about a new stadium by Opening Day. Whether he meant April 4 or the home opener on April 11 is anyone’s guess, but notice was served.

As if this week isn’t sufficiently packed with important dates, the agreement between the City of Hagerstown and Dane Bauer and Bruce Poole (aka Sora Group) will expire April 9. Sora brings experience and objective perspective on opportunities to revitalize downtown. They will likely bring together some old ideas and integrate them with some new ideas in a cohesive fashion. The plan they propose likely will combine public and private investments in a coordinated fashion that will energize local developers to partner with skilled parties from outside our community. Sora was vested with a great deal of hope and trust, in part because the city council themselves recognized that parties don’t have a lot of faith in them to be able to get a plan done in a timely fashion.  Additionally, a great deal of faith has been vested in Sora because of their expertise and track record.

Now, the debate is no longer so much about whether to do something, but rather about what and how to do it. Hopefully, Sora can pull together a plan. One obstacle — intransigence — remains that could derail the entire process. Now is the time for compromise and for everyone to be willing to lose a little bit, especially ego, to get something done. All of Washington County has a vested interest in the outcome. As goes downtown, so goes the county. Key actors need to open their minds to new options that Sora is likely to suggest. Please, be prepared to act. Otherwise, it might be 20 years before we travel this road again.

David Hanlin is a Hagerstown resident. His email address is davidhanlin54@gmail.com.

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