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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

DREAM TEAM COMES TO HAGERSTOWN: SHOW ME THE MONEY!

DEJU VU?

   
    I attended the mayor and council meeting last night where it was reported by the Herald Mail that a development firm would be presenting a plan for the revitalization of downtown. It seemed kind of random at first. The article stated that the group that would be presenting had been looking at Hagerstown for 7 or 8 months. My first thoughts were, who invited them to look at Hagerstown and who invited them to present to mayor and council? When I read further that they would be offering a plan that involves a public-private partnership (P3), I immediately made the connection with the recent Chamber of Commerce (COC) forum on P3s entitled Public-Private Partnerships: Opportunities and Obstacles with David Birtwistle of Balfour Beatty Construction. This couldn't be a coincidence. The HM also stated that: 
"In public session, little progress toward any type of plan for a major urban renewal project has been made since the city’s new administration took office last November, but Tuesday’s presentation could spark new interest considering the involved parties."
It sounded like last November was light years ago and that they not only nixed the HM's beloved Baltimore Street proposal, but had not offered a single idea to replace it in all of that time. That hyperbole, which allowed the new administration no time to adjust and get up to speed on important city business or have time off for the holidays, made me feel like I was instantly back on the HM-COC (and others) treadmill of manipulation during the recent stadium controversy. Needless to say, I went to the presentation with a bad taste in my mouth and a little skepticism. Coming from the perspective of the Hagerstown TEA Party, all I wanted to know at this point was: 1.) will this partnership be advantageous to the taxpayer and 2.) show me the money. 
  

DREAM TEAM


    Before the meeting I asked Council Member Penny Nigh who invited this group. She wasn't sure, but she said that they had been before the last administration and that they apparently weren't interested. When Mayor Gyspert's  introduced them he said that he had invited them simply to "start a discussion" and emphasized that the city was in no way expected to commit to anything. Where have I heard that before?
   The team came forward led by local attorney D. Bruce Poole. Apparently he brought them together out of a love of Hagerstown, embarrassment of the condition of Hagerstown, and a desire for his children to want to return to Hagerstown after college. They did seem quite impressive in their number and presence alone, but once they began to share all that they had individually accomplished in other towns across America, their "connections," and what they were offering Hagerstown, I thought this is a Dream Team coming to the rescue. I call it the Dream Team now simply because they don't have a group name. They are not all a part of any one organization with a proper name. The individuals who make up this Dream Team are:

  • D. Bruce Poole, a local attorney
  • Tim Elliott, of Sora Development, a real estate development company
  • Dane Bauer of Daft, McCune and Walker Inc., an engineering firm
  • Chuck Brawley of Skanska, a multi-national construction company
  • Rob  Hopson, introduced, project connection unknown
  • Melissa Schmidt, introduced, project connection unknown
In addition to the Dream Team, several local business owners were present. It was not a meeting where the public could speak, so I wondered if they were there to invest money. That would different!
  

I LOVE IT, BUT...SHOW ME THE MONEY!


    I have to tell you that as a homeowner and resident of Hagerstown I thought that the presentation was quite exciting. I say that in all honesty. They talked about finding our assets and economic growth drivers and connecting them in ways that are both good for the community and  create revenue. They were quite enthusiastic and spoke hope into the room. I want this hope and vision to become a reality for this city. I just have this nagging voice in the back of my mind yelling "Show me the money!"
   I liked the stadium idea. The money just wasn't there to pay for it. I was hoping that private investors, along with the mystery $15M donor, would come forth but they never did. Without the private investors the state wouldn't contribute. I didn't agree with using any public money for the stadium, but that is not the point. No state funds were available because there wasn't enough private investment. There just wasn't enough money.  So...will there be enough money to create the vision that this team and our elected officials agree on? Who will pay the larger share in this partnership, the private investors or the taxpayers? Even if the private investors meet investment expectations, does the taxpayer have the money to pay its share at the city, county, and state levels? The taxpayers may want to follow down this path. I do! But can they afford it? 
  

 METZNER IS STILL A BIG SPENDING LIBERAL

   
    I say show me the money first, before I get my hopes up. In a conversation with Council Member Metzner, he stated that he believes that the next time that we go forward on any project meant to revitalize downtown, we should get the money first. I agree. He said this before the presentation. I wonder if his enthusiasm has changed his new outlook on the money. 
   Oh-and just so you know...Council Member Metzner is still a big spending Liberal. Apparently he received some emails and phone calls from a few unhappy Liberals who thought that he had gone rogue or turned too far to the right regarding the Baltimore Street proposal. He assured me in this same conversation that he would still support the stadium downtown if the money was there to support it. He said that he is a realist and the reality is that the money wasn't there, there were no private investors coming forward, and even if they had the money they could not meet the demands of the Suns to build it by next season. He said that if the money was there he would vote for it today. However, given a choice between a downtown stadium and the BOE moving downtown he would choose the BOE. I just wanted to clear that up. Mr. Metzner and I are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but he is a nice man ( a reasonable Liberal!) and I don't want to misrepresent him.
    

WE HAVE LOTS OF MONEY!


   The good news is that  Chuck Brawley said, "We have access to capital," and Dane Bauer said,  "We have money. Lots of money to funnel through Hagerstown." Now that's what I'm talking about! On the other hand he assured everyone that he has the connections and the know how to get the public money needed from the state. I know this is where the public-private partnership comes in, but I am hoping that public funds will only be used to provide infrastructure and services that are typically provided by the various levels of government. I guess I have to wait to see how this partnership develops before I can comment on the appropriateness, or not, of the funding plan. I am also anxious to see if any of the business owners in attendance will be financially investing in this new vision, unlike their failure to invest in the Baltimore Street proposal while all the while "supporting it."
   

OUR ELECTED BODY IS OPTIMISTIC...MOSTLY


Metzner: This is the 5th time we have met with this group. Over the last four months there has been a momentum building for revitalizing downtown. We cannot let this momentum go away or we may not be able to get it back. In the past we would discuss it to death. We can do that or we can pursue this. I like the potential of "back to the future," partnering with Meritus Health and tying it to downtown, along with the education theme downtown...as opposed to the past administration was centered too much on one thing, the stadium. Tonight we have to decide yes or no, and if yes we need to move forward. We clearly have to include Neighborhoods 1st, our seniors, residents as we move forward. These are integral, and we can't make the same mistake [of leaving them out of the process].

Brubaker: If we start downtown we have to determine the "scope of service" outside the city. This needs to be discussed. The University is an asset, however it is a fledgling, so what are our economic drivers? We need to find them. We need to do "due diligence  and interview other agencies [other than the Dream Team]. Note: This invited some nervous comments. Bruce Poole asked well where have the others been? We have seven months invested. We have government and business support. We need to go to the next level. Metzner strongly agreed saying that we don't need to look at other groups. The city staff has worked on this for eight months and we can't waste anymore time and resources. [Isn't there something between "jumping to demands" and "talking to death" for this elected body? How about due diligence at a reasonable pace?]

Alshire: Transparency is paramount for public support. I appreciate the public presentation. There are going to be other entities, for example CHIEF and others, and they need to understand that we make the decisions. I still think that education gives us the biggest bang for the buck versus a stadium, but tying together the East End [sports] to downtown works too. I reiterate that the government roll should only be infrastructure and services. We need to reinstill the idea of a destination for private investment and not for public services. 

Munson: This is a unique opportunity. The city can't do it...Hell no! It's time to stop talking. We have to have a responsible proposal to the governor no later than September.

Nigh: I've been around for years and this is the most realistic plan that I have heard. The concept is wonderful. I agree with Kristen that this government is the final say. Respect us. We are the elected body. 

Mayor: Hagerstown has low self-esteem. We tend to think small and be reactive. It is time for a shared vision. We will contact the group in the next couple of days.

Bauer: We need to get organized in the next 90 days. We need a master plan by the end of September.


  PLAN MARYLAND?

I couldn't help but notice the repeated use of buzz words "sustainable walkable community" used by the urban development  team member. For  those of you who are concerned about Plan Maryland and Agenda 21, this may lead to further research. However, we know our governor will love the Plan Maryland language, and it may help them to get the money that they are seeking from the state. 

 

   
















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