HAGERSTOWN —Hagerstown officials plan to sign a nonbinding agreement Friday morning to allow a real estate investment group to act as the “agent” of the city and get its master downtown redevelopment plan in motion.
“I think it’s the first time in probably over 20 years that we’ve had such a meeting, and I think that speaks of the importance of the issue and the belief that this needs to be done promptly,” City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Tuesday, adding that they preferred to meet Wednesday but forecasted inclement weather forced them to select Friday at 7:30 a.m.
Once the one-page letter is signed, it authorizes the development group to talk with businesses and community stakeholders on the city’s behalf to develop a proposal of “catalyst” projects as a starting point for redevelopment at no expense to the city, Dane Bauer of the engineering firm Daft McCune Walker told Mayor David S. Gysberts and the Hagerstown City Council at City Hall on Tuesday night.
Bauer said he and local attorney D. Bruce Poole are representing the group, which also includes Sora Development and Skanska Construction. Conversations with various organizations have already begun, he said.
The group is asking for five weeks to put together a package “with more meat on the bones” to show what could be done in the first phase of projects, he said.
Projects that have already been discussed in preliminary talks include building a new facility to house the Washington County Board of Education central offices downtown as well as facilities for The Maryland Theatre, Meritus Health, a multiuse center and a new parking deck, Bauer said.
Working in concert with municipalities, Bauer said the group creates a long-term redevelopment plan with an eye toward additional economic opportunities, then uses private capital to build projects that are agreeable to the city.
“And over a five-week period, we think that we could show enough enhancements that (the city) would be willing to enter into a public-private partnership with us,” Bauer said.
Metzner said the move shows that the city is ready to do more than just talk about redevelopment any longer.
“We finally have a number of individuals who ... have the ability to implement the plan other than just talking about a plan,” he said.
Earlier in the meeting Tuesday, Gysberts and the five-member council identified a section of West Washington Street — between Washington County Circuit Court and the county Board of Elections building — as its first target location for redevelopment.
At the State of the City address Tuesday morning, Gysberts unveiled a concept showing the BOE central offices being built where the current Columbia Bank and former Susquehanna Bank buildings stand on West Washington Street, accompanied by a parking deck on the parking lot to the rear.
“In my line of thinking, this block becomes ground zero for our downtown redevelopment efforts,” Gysberts said.
The city also is in the process of purchasing adjacent buildings at 43-53 W. Washington St., for $320,000. The plan for those buildings would be to renovate the majority of the structures, and then market and resell them to private investors, city officials said.
The purchase will come from city Community Development Block Grant money and Community Legacy funds that have already been secured from the state.
Potomac Bead Co., one of the longest standing downtown businesses, is located in 43 W. Washington St., and city officials said they plan to keep them there and want to offer the right to purchase part of the property once it is renovated and subdivided.
Bauer said he has a close relationship with Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, an advocate of public-private partnerships like the one the group is proposed.
He said the initial letter would not authorize the investment group to spend any city money. It does, however, allow the group to negotiate projects and potentially begin lobbying for state funding on the city’s behalf, Bauer said.
The group’s goal is to outline a group of projects as the first phase of the overall master plan to get it moving by next year.
“If you can show a year or two’s worth of results, that’s all you need for others to see the interest and want to be part of it, and jump on the train themselves,” Bauer said.