Tourism center proposed for Mount Airy Old gas station to house venture SOUTHWEST -- Mount Airy * Woodbine * Taylorsville * Winfield

December 04, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

A joint public/private sector venture may bring a four-county tourism center to Mount Airy sometime next summer, Mayor Gerald Johnson told the town's business association yesterday.

The center, which could stock statewide brochures and information on Carroll, Frederick, Montgomery and Howard counties, would be located in a gas station proposed by Ewing Oil off Route 27 near Interstate 70.

Senior citizens would staff the center and, because it is connected with a private business, the owners could sell souvenirs, he said.

"This is a new concept in Maryland," the mayor said. "Mount Airy has a leg up on this because it is the doorway to both counties."

The "both counties" Mayor Johnson referred to are Carroll and Frederick.

He said has not yet contacted Howard or Montgomery counties about the idea, and said yesterday that was not a deliberate oversight.

"I can really see that information from them should be there," Mayor Johnson said. "I anticipate that they would be as $l enthusiastic as the other two."

California has successfully experimented with tourist centers in private businesses with benefits for both, the mayor said, noting that tourists are likely to use the services of the host business, and the state or town does not have to pay to build a center.

"Each compliments the other," Mayor Johnson said. "The state only has a low upkeep, and if it doesn't go well, the business can use the space for something else. If you use town money, you're stuck with it."

However, the deal rests on whether the State Highway Administration approves a plan to extend East Ridgeville Boulevard that would give the station access off Route 27.

If the state does not approve the plan, the property is not easily accessible.

Ewing Oil would then withdraw its application for a special exception allowing a gas station on the property, Howard Bowen, the company president, told Mount Airy's planning and zoning commission Monday night.

The town has been waiting since October for state approval.

"It's all set on the other end," Mayor Johnson said yesterday. "We do not anticipate any problems [from the state]. We feel if they weren't going to approve it, we would have heard real quick."

The planning and zoning commission decided Monday night not give a recommendation about the gas station's special exception to the town's Board of Special Appeals because the state has not approved the road.

But Mayor Johnson said he didn't think that would hold up the process.

"Once the road's approved, everything else will evolve very quickly," he said.

The Carroll, Frederick and state tourism representatives expressed enthusiasm for the proposal, but did not appear to be as excited about it as Mayor Johnson.

They said their agencies could not provide financial support for the center and that they were waiting to see what develops.

"I'm the first person to say wait until the signatures are on the dotted line before you go jumping off a bridge," said Micki Smith, Carroll County's deputy director of administrative services.

Yet the representatives said the location near I-70 is desirable, and they promised to provide brochures and training for the proposed center.

"There's a growing popularity for that whole region, and there's close proximity to Washington and Baltimore," said Luwanda Jenkins, manager of in-state programs for the Maryland Office of Tourism. "Just at an initial blush, it looks like a really good idea. We wish them all the best."

Mayor Johnson agreed, saying that the Mount Airy tourism center would be more accessible than the ones in Frederick and Westminster to people driving on I-70.

"People traveling on [Interstate] 70 west do not usually get off to go to Frederick, and sometimes [the centers] a little hard to find," he said. "This is an easy on, easy off concept."

In addition, Mayor Johnson said he hoped the center would stimulate local businesses.

"My intent when I started with this was to help the businesses that are already here and to give some incentive to new businesses that might want to locate here," he said.

"As far as tourism sites, we don't have a lot to offer, but that doesn't mean we don't have places that would welcome tourism dollars."

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