WESTMINSTER -- Spiffing up historic Sykesville wasn't enough to attract tourists and shoppers, Town Manager James Schumacher said.
"It's like we're all dressed up and no place to go," he told a group of 15 business owners, town officials and others who gathered Thursday to discuss downtown development.
"We're still pretty frustrated. We haven't got the people downtown we need," Mr. Schumacher said.
The group met for breakfast at the Winchester Exchange in Westminster to share ideas about improving downtown areas. The meeting was sponsored by the Westminster Business Association and the Maryland Downtown Development Association [MDDA].
"We try to bring you together so you can learn from each other," said Dianne Wiebe, MDDA executive director and Uniontown resident.
The discussion was one of a series sponsored throughout the state by the Crownsville-based MDDA.
Mr. Schumacher said Sykesville plans to hire a part-time promotions coordinator to get the word out about the town's shops, services and the historic former train station that now houses Baldwin's Restaurant.
Kathleen R. Campanella, promotions coordinator for the Westminster Business Association, said it's a challenge to convince people to shop downtown because they're used to malls with familiar chain stores.
"The other challenge we have is parking," she said.
Shoppers will walk the equivalent of six blocks in a mall parking lot and not be bothered, but will feel put out if they have to park two blocks away from a downtown shop, she said.
Westminster hasn't found a solution to this "perceived inconvenience" yet, Mrs. Campanella said.
Some Maryland towns have been successful in revitalizing their downtown areas through historic preservation. The Westminster council is considering forming a historic district commission to preserve significant buildings.
The council sponsored a hearing on the issue Aug. 10 and may vote on whether to form the commission next month, Councilwoman Rebecca Orenstein said.
Educating property owners about the benefits of historic districts is an ongoing effort, said Kathleen Kotarba, executive director of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation in Baltimore.
Attending neighborhood meetings and making one-to-one contact with business and property owners is important, she said.
Historic preservation doesn't mean all buildings in the district will look alike; it means they'll retain the characteristics of the periods in which they were built, Ms. Kotarba said.
Westminster architect Dean Camlin, who helped write the guidelines for the proposed district here, said the commission would be "lenient" when it considers renovations to buildings BTC that aren't historically significant and "strict" when it comes to buildings that are.
Sykesville formed a historic district about a year ago, and at least 80 percent of the buildings in the district on Main Street have been renovated, Mr. Schumacher said.
Now the council is looking for ways to pay a promotions coordinator, he said.