Development group says Hagerstown is the 'vital organ' of Washington County
Dane Bauer, left, speaks to members of the Sora Development group, who were gathered for a meeting with EDC and others at the Washington County Commissioners conference room on Monday. (By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer / February 25, 2013)
The Sora Group, which has been trying to get the city to sign onto public-private partnership to redevelop the downtown, was invited by the EDC to brief its members on the proposal. The meeting had been in the works for a couple of weeks, EDC Vice Chairman Ron Bowers said.
Attorney D. Bruce Poole, representing Sora Development, the land development consulting firm Daft-McCune-Walker and the Skanska construction group, noted the economic activity that is taking place in neighboring counties and states.
“We’ve become a bubble and, unfortunately, it’s a bubble of inactivity,” Poole said. Redevelopment has to “start at the core, the vital organ ... and the vital organ is Hagerstown,” he said.
In recent months ideas have been fielded to bring economic life back to the downtown, among them building a new baseball stadium and relocating the administrative offices of the Washington County Public Schools.
Since last fall’s city election, the stadium project is getting a second look, this time including sites outside of downtown, and the Washington County Board of Education is looking at the former Allegheny Energy headquarters on Downsville Pike as a possibility for the school system’s offices.
“You have to have a focal point, a catalyst project” for a redevelopment master plan, said Dane Bauer of Daft-McCune-Walker. He suggested The Maryland Theatre and the surrounding buildings provide opportunities for a catalyst project.
Timothy Elliott of Sora said downtown has to have the support, not just of the city, but also of the county, state and private investors.
City Councilman Kristin Aleshire expressed some skepticism about getting all those entities to accept that downtown redevelopment should be the county’s top priority.
“It isn’t going to work unless all parties are in agreement,” Aleshire said. He said he was concerned that, if the city signed onto a master redevelopment plan, it could end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars only to produce “another plan.”
Whether or not the other parties buy in will depend on the quality of the plan the city comes up with, County Commissioner William McKinley said. One that is “doable and likely to happen” will have the best chance of garnering support, he said.
“We keep getting projects coming up and we’re not ready to handle them,” Bowers said. The meeting was an effort to get all the players together, he said.
“We need to get something started,” former Hagerstown finance director Al Martin said. “You need to stick your neck out a little bit.”
Along with EDC members and the commissioners, the meeting was attended by state Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, representatives of U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin and representatives of the Washington County Industrial Foundation, or CHIEF.