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City officials to meet in closed session on redevelopment proposals

April 29, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

D. Bruce Poole and Dane Bauer, two representatives of a real estate development group that includes Sora Development, presented a progress report to the five-member council April 23 detailing numerous meetings about developing a master plan conducted over the past five weeks with local business and education leaders as well as state officials.

Poole and Bauer had hoped to receive approval from the council to move forward in the process last Tuesday, but some council members took issue with the proposal, prompting Tuesday’s executive session that will begin about 4:30 p.m., in the council chamber at City Hall.

“We’re just not getting anything answered,” Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said Monday.

Aleshire said a “fair and public process” needs to be used in determining the most qualified firm to accomplish the city’s redevelopment goals, and the exclusive duties should not just be given to a group that simply lobbied for state funding to start the process.

Aleshire said he did not receive the group’s proposal until the night before last Tuesday’s meeting. He said the city was supposed to receive weekly status updates on the group’s progress, which he said never happened.

“We haven’t seen anything for that entire 45 days. Nothing,” Aleshire said, adding that he still questions the purpose of the “useless” nonbinding agreement signed March 8 to allow Poole and Bauer to act as representatives of the city and to begin gauging support for the master planning process.

Aleshire said he also is concerned about the group’s ability to produce private sector investment and not simply funnel state taxpayer money to Hagerstown for planning to have private entities just buy up public bonds through the public-private partnership model.

Aleshire said he would vote against going into closed session to consult legal counsel on the issue, saying he didn’t “see any benefit” in holding the discussion in private.

The group’s proposal received initial support from council members Donald F. Munson, Penny Nigh and Lewis C. Metzner at the April 23 meeting. Councilman Martin E. Brubaker said then wanted more assurance that private investment was a definite before giving his approval.

According to the group’s report, initial ideas for the first phase of catalyst projects include a new stadium concept, an aquatic center, opportunities for multipurpose facilities, The Maryland Theatre, Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, Meritus Health and “the many other redevelopment opportunities.”

Poole, a local attorney, and Bauer, senior vice president of the engineering firm Daft McCune Walker, were assisted by Rob Hobson of Sora Development in gathering the public input, according to the report.

“All the people that we met with have been coming forward” in support, Bauer said Monday night. “I think there’s a lot of very qualified people on the council and they have a great mayor. And I will trust that they will do the right thing.”

Bauer said his and Poole’s track record and their work over the past year toward gathering support from business and community leaders speaks to the need for the master planning process in Hagerstown.

The report states that meetings also took place with officials from the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, the Washington County Board of Commissioners, Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, state Del. John Donoghue as well as the Greater Hagerstown Committee and other business leaders.

But Aleshire said he felt the report lacked specific information about what was discussed. He said he sent out emails late last week to “about 50 people” in the associated organizations seeking feedback about the meetings with Poole, Bauer and Hobson.

By Monday afternoon, only a few people had sent back responses, he said.

“It’s like nobody wants to respond to me because nobody wants to say what they talked about,” Aleshire said. “So I don’t know what they met with” each organization about.

Aleshire said he had received replies in support of the group’s proposal from Joseph Ross, president and chief executive officer of Meritus Health, and a member of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

The progress report included letters of support from Ross, school board President Justin Hartings, WCPS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and Benito Vattelana of the Maryland Theatre.

Ross said Monday he’s known Bauer for years, working with him previously when Ross lived on the Eastern Shore. He called Bauer a “fabled” former member of Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer’s administration prior to his retirement from the state.

“Frankly, Dane is one of the guys in the state that has a unique knack for accomplishing things,” Ross said.

Ross said he’s met with representatives of the group “at least a half dozen times” to discuss different ideas about Meritus Health and its properties downtown, including the former Washington County Hospital site in the East End of the city. He endorsed the group’s approach to redevelopment projects in the city.

“I think a public-private partnership is the only way to accelerate the redevelopment of downtown Hagerstown,” he said.

Bauer last week said that a Meritus wellness clinic downtown was one of the group’s potential projects. Ross said a company the size of Meritus “always” has projects like that on the table, and when the prospect of a new stadium cropped up in discussions, a facility geared toward medical fitness or a wellness clinic came to the forefront.

Meritus had previously operated a downtown urgent care clinic on East Antietam Street prior to its closure in April 2012 due to a lack of sustainable patient load.

The group’s progress report and proposal can be found on the city’s website in city council agenda documents.

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