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Town loses two potential tourist attractions

(1/26) The precarious nature of the tight rope that town leaders often find themselves on, between fulfilling their responsibility to release information of importance to the public and or keeping privileged information private until such time as the responsible parties release it, came into a sharp light as a result of Mayor Briggs’ comments at January's Town meeting.

In his opening comments, a thoroughly enthusiastic Mayor Briggs outlined plans by the Kentucky Rifle Association to host an exhibit of 18th Century rifles made by Emmitsburg native gunsmith John Armstrong at the Maryland Visitors Center this spring and summer, and the selection of Emmitsburg to be the home of the proposed National Civil War Memorial, the later of which Briggs said, could bring over 1.5 million visitors to Emmitsburg yearly.

Unfortunately, both events were still in the early planning stages and their premature release to the public may have derailed them for good, or at least could have hindered Emmitsburg serving as their home.

Nationally recognized historical sculptor Gary Casteel, who was chosen by the Town last year to oversee the restoration of the Doughboy monument, was genesis behind both initiatives. Following the repair of the Doughboy, Gary reached out to the Kentucky Rifle Association about hosting an exhibition of Armstrong rifles in Emmitsburg and proposed a bronze memorial honoring Armstrong as well as the gunsmithing trade of the period.

Due to the extreme value of the rifles, (in excess of $100,000 per rifle) a secure location was needed to host the exhibition. The Town offices were initially selected, but when the Town Council turned down the request, the Maryland Visitors Center on Rt. 15 was approached.

Preliminary discussions with the state to secure the Visitors Center were well underway and all was looking good, when Briggs broke the news. Within 24 hours of Briggs "jumping the gun", the Maryland Visitors Bureau withdrew from the negotiations citing premature release of information about the event and potential safety concerns related to having rifles in a state building - concerns that Casteel and the Kentucky Rifle Association had been in the process of addressing. As we go to press, the status of the exhibition is "on hold".

"Like all negotiations, whether in politics or business" Casteel said, "we need to keep the information on these events close to our chests before releasing them to the general public. I informed Mayor Briggs as a matter of courtesy, but never authorized him to release the information, nor was I informed of his intentions to do so the night of the Town meeting."

Currently, the proposed National Civil War Memorial is to be sited on 25 acres of vacant land on the east side of Rt.15 just opposite the Visitor Center, and efforts to advance to such a point that negotiations were underway for the transfer of land to the non-profit National Civil War Memorial Commission. As part of the project approach, Casteel was in the process of negotiating for studio space within the Visitor Center, with the goal of allowing visitors to observe the making of the memorial and to assist in the fund raising element.

While negotiations for the use of the space within the Visitor Center were moving along smoothly with the state, they had not yet been formalized. Upon Mayor Briggs premature release of the memorial project and Armstrong rifle exhibition, the state of Maryland formally withdrew it's support for the use of the Visitor Center. The Maryland Tourism Office however still supports the projects and informed Casteel that they will work with the Maryland Journey Through Hallowed Ground program to see if there is a more suitable site for the placement of the sculptors studio.

According to Casteel, the memorial site has been determined, however much is to be accomplished with the Town of Emmitsburg to complete the required process of project site approval. As to the studio, a highly visible site on Rt. 15 near the project area is ideal. "This is why the Visitors Center was such a good location."

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