Downtown Hagerstown, MD. Photo by Mr. T in DC via Flickr.
David Gysberts, Mayor of Hagerstown, MD, and an Advisory Board member of the Maryland Chapter of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is looking to revitalize downtown Hagerstown while preserving its historic character.
“Hagerstown used to be a huge manufacturing town. You name it, we made it,” says Mayor Gysberts. “We still have that hardworking attitude coming from our history of being the home of entrepreneurs and industry.” Mayor Gysberts brings that attitude to Hagerstown’s revitalization efforts, working to reduce commercial and residential vacancies and promote homeownership in the city center.
Hagerstown Mayor David Gysberts
“The age, scale and scope of our urban core requires a lot of reinvestment,” he explains. “However, I see this as an opportunity. We have in our center city what the suburbs are trying to recreate with New Urbanism—historic architecture, mixed use and walkability.”
In order to make the most of public investment in downtown, Hagerstown has partnered with Urban Partners, a consulting firm from Philadelphia, PA, to help identify and conduct cost/benefit analyses of up to eight projects that could catalyze private development. Urban Partners will also map out ways to implement Hagerstown’s 2012 Sustainable Community Plan. The project, which is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, will use community engagement workshops to inform the plan. The first public engagement workshop is scheduled for February 27, 2014.
“To be successful we need buy-in from the community,” Gysberts explains. “This process has resulted in a lot of stakeholder feedback and helped us build support.”
Mayor Gysberts is also working to advance ordinances that will address other obstacles to a vibrant downtown Hagerstown—particularly crime. The City Council recently introduced a Crime Free Housing Ordinance that requires landlords to attend a free one-day Crime Free Housing Seminar sponsored by the City’s police department. “The seminar is a collaboration between the Police Department and the Department of Community and Economic Development. It creates a pathway of communication between police, city staff, and landowners and ensures people know what is happening with their property,” says Gysberts.
The city is seeing success already. In 2013, the Hagerstown City Park was named the most beautiful city park in the United States. And Mayor Gysberts adds, “We now have 18 restaurants within the first two blocks of Public Square,” Gysberts explains. “And even more new businesses opening in renovated or repurposed buildings in downtown.”