DAVID DISHNEAU, Associated Press
HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Gov. Larry Hogan played Santa Claus on Thursday, pledging $7 million over five years to help the western Maryland city of Hagerstown with a downtown revitalization plan anchored by educational and arts institutions.
The Republican governor even sang “Jingle Bells” with scores of students from the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, a public high school that opened in 2009. It would be expanded under the $30 million plan.
Hogan made the announcement outside the century-old Maryland Theatre. The plan includes adding a glass-and-brick entrance to the restored, neoclassical theater, which lost its facade to a fire in 1974.
The plan also includes expanding a nearby University System of Maryland center that opened in 2005. An earlier governor, Democrat Parris Glendening, ordered the center built inside vacant downtown buildings rather than on the city’s outskirts as part of his Smart Growth program.
Students at the arts high school now take academic classes in the university center and perform at the 1,300-seat theater.
Hogan said the state should help with economic development of older communities like Hagerstown, a city of 41,000 about 70 miles west of Baltimore.
“This urban redevelopment and improvement project, I believe, can serve as a model for the entire state on the importance of public-private partnerships,” Hogan said.
Mayor Bob Bruchey lobbied in 1999 for the downtown university center.
“It’s good to see the state’s commitment to continuing higher education’s influence” in the city, he said.
Bruchey said the expanded institutions could spur the growth of small businesses serving students, faculty and theatergoers.
Hogan also announced that construction has begun on a $105 million project to widen an Interstate 81 bridge over the Potomac River from four lanes to six. Maryland is contributing $65 million to the project, and West Virginia is providing $40 million.
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