November 27, 2012
Congratulations are in order for the newly elected mayor and members of the Hagerstown City Council as they take their seats this evening for their first meeting as a team.
For this council there will be both challenges and opportunities, as the city tries to scratch and claw its way back to relevance. Both the short- and long-term goals are to rebuild commercial momentum that was lost following the 2006 real estate bust.
This is no small chore, and one that will not be accomplished with timid measures. And while it can be construed that the new council has a mandate to reconsider plans for a multi-use stadium at the corner of Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue, we do not believe this extends as far as killing the project outright. With $25 million already sitting on the table — at no obligation to local taxpayers — we believe it makes more sense to revise, not reject, this project.
And here, the council should not drag its feet. This is an urgent situation, particularly as far as the state funding is concerned for the coming fiscal year. If the new council should choose a different direction, city residents deserve to know what this new direction will be, and they need to know sooner rather than later.
Of course plenty more issues large and small will be on the council’s plate, and in no particular order we believe these should be at the top of the council’s to-do list:
• Finding a new use for the old hospital grounds. To date, the city has taken a hands-off approach to the old hospital site, spending little time or money in support of the group that is trying to find a new use for this large and potentially valuable chunk of empty land. The new council should become more involved.
• Transitioning to a new era in public safety. The council will be charged with hiring a replacement for departing Chief Arthur Smith. These are large shoes to fill, and the new council members, some of whom stressed public safety in their campaigns, should ensure that we continue to make strides in making people who would shop or go to school downtown feel safe.
• Dealing with the old Municipal Electric Light Plant. This crumbling building is an ever-increasing eyesore and should be torn down as soon as is economically feasible. A day of reckoning should also be at hand for the disappointing First Urban Fiber plant, once hailed as the project of a generation, but now just an unproductive mint-green elephant.
• Focusing on transparency. Plans for the aforementioned new stadium have failed to gain public acclaim, in part because the council moved too fast with too much secrecy. The lesson for this, or any project, should be to keep the public informed every step of the way.
Obviously, these won’t be easy tasks. But none can be pushed to the back burner for long, and if there was ever a time for a new council to hit the ground running, it is now. We wish the new council good luck and wisdom as it deals with some of the more vexing problems the city has seen in a generation.
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