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Hagerstown officials undecided how to spend state-allocated money

July 12, 2013|BY KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

The state allocated $100,000 to the city of Hagerstown during the 2013 session of the Maryland General Assembly for a downtown redevelopment study, but city officials are still deciding how to spend the money.

“We are coordinating with the state to determine what the applicable uses of this fund are,” Erin Wolfe, a spokeswoman for the city, said last week.

The funds are available for fiscal 2014, which began July 1.

Karen Glenn Hood, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development, said her office was working with city officials.

“The City has until the end of this fiscal year (June 30, 2014) to use the funding and we are working with them on their plan. In the unlikely event it doesn’t get used, it would revert back to the general fund,” Hood said in an email message.

A meeting has been scheduled to “discuss the funding,” she said.

Asked about plans for the money, Mayor David Gysberts said city officials “have to first figure out what the parameters are.”

D. Bruce Poole — a Hagerstown attorney and former member of the House of Delegates who has been involved with downtown redevelopment efforts — said he wished more had happened sooner.

“I regret that more didn’t happen as a result of what we were able to achieve in Annapolis,” Poole said. “Frankly, I am more embarrassed than disappointed.”

“They got the request later in the legislative session and turned on a dime to help us,” he said, referring to lawmakers such as Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and officials in Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s office who helped secure funds for a possible study.

Poole visited Annapolis four times during the 90-day 2013 session of the legislature and said he made “endless calls” as he lobbied for the planning money.

“Every time, I was told that a plan with an overriding vision would be essential,” Poole wrote in a text message.

“The city appears to have taken no steps to figure out what the state wants to see before state funds will be committed to a stadium ...., ” he said.

Poole was the representative of a group that included Sora Development, a company that specializes in downtown redevelopment, in discussions with the city about a possible private-public partnership for downtown Hagerstown.

At one point, Hagerstown officials signed a nonbinding agreement to allow the group to act on the city’s behalf while developing a vision for downtown redevelopment.

But the process stalled by late April. Poole said at the time he was frustrated by the Hagerstown City Council’s inaction.

Earlier this year, city officials lobbied the Washington County Board of Education to move its administrative offices downtown. The board met with representatives of the Sora group, and local developer Peter Perini, who was working with a Columbia, Md.-based company called Manekin.

But the board then voted unanimously in April to buy the former Allegheny Energy building on Downsville Pike for its administrative offices.

During this year’s session of the legislature, Gysberts wrote a letter to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley asking for $10 million in the governor’s fiscal 2015 capital budget for a multiuse sports and events facility in downtown Hagerstown.

“The City is also exploring other funding possibilities including major public/private partnerships to construct the multi-use facility as part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan focused on brown-field and blighted areas,” the letter said.

Fiscal 2015 begins on July 1, 2014.

The $10 million would make up about a third of the estimated costs of the facility, including related parking, according to the letter.

Gysberts said in his letter that the multiuse facility is important for the city’s revitalization and retaining the Hagerstown Suns.

Although Gysberts said recently that the city is trying to keep the Suns in Hagerstown,  Fredericksburg, Va., is looking at the possibility of luring the Suns away.

Donoghue said last week he remained confident that the city would find an effective use for the money.

“My job was to secure the funding. It is the job of the city to determine what direction they want to go. I understand that different people have different visions when it comes to downtown redevelopment,” Donoghue said.

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