A criticism often leveled at the past city council was its tendency to operate in a vacuum. A committee established to investigate reuse of the old hospital property, for example, felt it received little support, financial or otherwise, from the city. Conversely, citizens curious about the council’s plans for a new stadium felt they were being kept in the dark.
Even more disconcerting was that outside groups offering help complained privately that they couldn’t even get a phone call returned from the city.
So we were happy to see that the new mayor and council were so receptive to redevelopment concepts presented Tuesday by representatives of several organizations with track records loaded with redevelopment projects.
Tim Elliot of Sora Development told the council what has become increasingly obvious over the past two decades: Traditional small-city development models don’t work anymore. Instead, Sora promotes public-private partnerships that share the heavy lifting.
Bringing together interested developers, governments and people are what it will take — no one entity has shoulders broad enough to bear the entire burden.
As Mayor David Gysberts noted, that truth hasn’t always been recognized in the past. The city and individual developers have gone their own ways without any central, guiding plan. One notable exception — Don Bowman’s Potomac Street development coupled with a new city parking deck — proves the point. In the new urban economy, public and private interests are best advanced when working in harmony.
So we were, in particular, happy to see the council’s new members embracing the theory behind the proposals, which Gysberts summed up as “thinking bigger.”
The challenge before the council now is to keep at it, and make sure the city staff knows the Sora concept is not just a priority, but an urgent priority. That doesn’t mean the city must not perform due diligence before entering into any partnership or committing to a project, but it must not drag its feet in doing so. Too often in the past, fancy concepts have been allowed to wither on the vine for a lack of action.
This could be the best chance for serious change that Hagerstown has seen in some time. The idea certainly warrants efficient and expedient vetting by the city council and city staff. If a good opportunity is missed, who knows when, if ever, the next chance will come along?