When walking around downtown Hagerstown, you get the sense that there could be more – more businesses, more feet on the ground and more growth.
“There was a thriving downtown, and many factors have changed that,” said Greg Murray, the Washington County Administrator. “So it is not quite as vibrant as it used to be.”
But at last, the plans for redevelopment are pushing forward. On Tuesday afternoon, City Council voiced its support for funding the expansion of the Maryland Theatre – one of the first steps in the Urban Improvement Project.
“If we show that we’re willing to invest in ourselves, others will see that, too,” said Hagerstown Mayor David Gysberts during Tuesday’s meeting.
City and county leaders consider the Maryland Theatre a “cultural anchor,” which will create growth around it.
“It’s just very near and dear to the community,” said Jennifer Green, the executive of the Maryland Theatre. “We’re very excited – this is our 101st year anniversary celebration for the Theatre, and this is going to be a big step.”
Funds of up to $1 million are needed for the architecture stage, to improve customer amenities.
“The concession stands, restrooms, lobby, access to the Theatre, exiting from the Theatre, ADA Accessibility,” Green added. “There’s a variety of things that will just make the Maryland Theatre more accessible to the general public.”
Beyond the Maryland Theatre, there are also plans to expand programs at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, and build an urban educational campus. Some parts of the Urban Improvement Project even suggest closing up alleyways in between buildings, to make the Arts & Entertainment District more connected.
Officials said the return on investment from these projects will move Hagerstown forward.
“This is a once in a lifetime chance, and if this opportunity is missed, I don’t know if it will come around again,” Murray said.
The entire Urban Improvement Project is estimated to cost between $24-25 million. City and county officials are relying on outside funding and capital campaigns to finish the job.