The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday approved the hiring of an advisory panel to guide a downtown master planning process.
Planning Director Kathleen Maher said the panel will offer advice on how to enter into and navigate a public-private partnership agreement with a master developer such as Sora Development.
“Sora has been in town, they’re one of many firms like them across the country and their guidance of us has their interest in mind,” Economic Development Manager Jill Estavillo said during the council meeting.
“There is an advantage for the city to get unbiased consulting and advice that is ... not connected to financial interests in the project.”
Estavillo said the city will choose between two organizations — International Economic Development Council or International Downtown Association — based on cost proposal.
“The advisory panel would be comprised of people who have done this in other communities that would give us their lessons learned, some common pitfalls and successful strategies, so that when we’re ready to execute that, we have a baseline of knowledge,” Estavillo said.
The cost of hiring the panel is expected to be less than $10,000, Estavillo said.
The panel that is selected will visit the city within three weeks and present a final report three to four weeks after the visit, Estavillo said, estimating the process would be completed in late May or early June.
Mayor David S. Gysberts expressed interest in expediting the process if possible.
According to a March 28 memo from Estavillo and Maher to city Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, an advisory panel would include a team of a staff manager and two to three “economic development practitioners from other communities.”
The team would review documents, and conduct a two-day visit culminating in a presentation and final report with recommendations, the memo states.
Last month, the city signed a nonbinding agreement allowing a real estate investment group — represented by local attorney D. Bruce Poole and Dane Bauer of the engineering firm Daft McCune Walker — to act on the city’s behalf in developing a concept for downtown redevelopment.
Poole and Bauer, representing a group including Sora Development and Skanska Construction, are expected to report to the mayor and council when the five-week agreement expires — one week after the 2013 session of Maryland’s General Assembly concludes April 8.