After years of population growth and other factors, Hagerstown, MD needed a new way to help the region thrive. Now, after working with Urban Partners, a Philedelphia-based community development firm, and interviewing numerous town residents, the city has prepared an urban revitalization plan to help Hagerstown thrive. The strategy will include a number of projects, including a new walking trail and renovations to the historic Maryland Theatre.
Founded by Johnathan Hager in 1762, Hagerstown survived the Civil War despite its tempestuous location between the North and South, and went on to experience significant growth after the introduction of the railroad. Now one of the largest cities in Western Maryland, Hagerstown is still regarded as a hub in the region, making community improvements a notable development that could potentially affect an area beyond its location in Washington County.
To start this improvement process, Hagerstown hired Urban Partners, who spent several weeks studying and collecting responses from local residents. Eventually, Urban Partners recommended eight projects to help the area thrive. After the consultation, the city decided to pursue a number of these suggestions, including a walking trail through the city, new office space, increased student housing for the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, and a number of improvements to the Maryland Theatre.
The theatre has become a symbolic example of the city’s renovation efforts: fundraising has started to provide new seating, a new heating and air conditioning system is reportedly 60% complete, and a contract has been approved to work on the stage and back stage areas themselves. This would include remodeling basement dressing rooms, updating the stage lighting, improving on stage dress rooms and stage curtains, adding new carpeting and refinishing the floor.
Additional plans are reportedly also under way to help the downtown area in other ways. For example, the Hagerstown City Council has stated that it is attempting to draw more vendors to the historic City Farmer’s Market. The city is also making efforts to improve downtown housing by creating an inspections program for rental properties, along with other plans.
Despite the potential benefits of these projects, however, a number of residents and city officials are taking measures to ensure that the changes are safe and mesh with the existing feel of the area. The proposed walking trail has become one of the most controversial undertakings; while the city has received support for the project from local property owners, councilmen and residents alike have questioned how Hagerstown will ensure the safety of the trail. City officials have stated that they plan to work with the Hagerstown Police Department to prevent any potential problems. Likewise, the changes to the Maryland Theatre have not been without debate. Many people have reportedly questioned how the historic building will mesh with the “academic hub” that has been proposed for the downtown area.