All summer long, crowds of people gather every Thursday night in Glen Burnie to dance to folk music or listen to the blues.
Even on the hottest, stickiest evenings, hundreds of area residents show up to hear concerts in front of the Arundel Center North. Some come with babies in their arms, others carry canes. Young and old, they rock to the beat of popular Maryland bands.
The success of the summer concerts has encouraged Councilman Edward C. Middlebrooks, who wants to build a performing arts center behind the government offices in downtown Glen Burnie. Middlebrooks, D-Severn, believes the community would support a year-round concert and theater series in an indoor "festival arts" pavilion.
A civic activist who soundly defeated his opponents in last year's race for the 2ndDistrict seat, Middlebrooks first mentioned the arts center during his campaign. He said then that a modern performing arts center would "give Glen Burnie something to be proud of."
Middlebrooks stepped up his push for an arts center in recentmonths and convinced his colleagues on the council to allocate $40,000 for a feasibility study. Healso persuaded the council to earmark another $100,000 to improve the 5.6-acre lot behind Arundel Center North.
Once touted as the cornerstone to downtown revitalization, the property has been turned into a parking lot. The county Office of Urban Renewal planned to develop a "superblock," a mini-Georgetown with boutiques, restaurants and offices, on the site.
But the urban renewal office tabled its plansafter a deal with a Fortune 500 company fell through, and the economic slowdown halted ambitious development projects.
Middlebrooks maintains that a cultural/performing arts center would "get that property back on the tax rolls." He intends to invite area businesses to become partners with the county government in developing the center.
The study is scheduled to start within the next few weeks, after thecouncilman meets with Victor A. Sulin, head of the urban renewal program, to narrow the scope. It's one of several studies on the books this summer, Sulin said.
Meanwhile, the 20-year-old urban renewal program is being expanded to encompass the entire county, rather than just Glen Burnie. County Executive Robert R. Neall shifted the program from his office to the Office of Planning and Zoning.
Sulin saidthe county has noimmediate plans to close the Glen Burnie office, but he expects some staff eventually will move to the planning department in Annapolis.
"Our presence will be maintained in Glen Burnie, but it may be reduced," he said. "The functions of urban renewal are changing to a countywide perspective and will take on more of a revitalization role."