Westminster's admission to Maryland's small group of "Main Street" communities may help trustees of the Farmers Supply Co. sell the property, which once housed a farm equipment dealership and a coffee shop.
The Main Street designation links local government officials to state officials with resources to help solve community problems. Maryland towns compete for the designation, which the state has given to 10 communities in the three years the program has been in effect.
"It's not like a grant program. It's not a program to bring money to the town," said David Schultz, director of technical assistance for Maryland's Community Assistance Administration. The designation includes a $5,000 grant, but the program's real goal is to get state agencies working with towns to help revitalize downtowns, he said.
Westminster does not yet have a formal working agreement with the state agency, but a city delegation met recently with state officials to talk about federal transportation aid programs, ways to improve signs for the pedestrian crosswalk on Main Street opposite the Westminster branch library and possible aid for the vacant Farmers Supply property.
Farmers Supply trustees have been trying for about four years to sell the one-acre property, which has six buildings. But no buyer wants the property unless the old stone building at 12-18 Liberty St. is demolished, said William B. Dulany, trustee for liquidation.
The trustees sought a city permit to demolish all buildings on the site in 1991 at the request of a prospective buyer, Mr. Dulany said.
Thomas B. Beyard, city planning director, recommended against razing the stone building because of its historic nature. The City Council approved demolition of the other buildings but not the stone one.
Mr. Dulany said the asking price for the property is $595,000, down from the $675,000 he quoted in 1991. A structural engineering consultant said in 1991 that the stone building's walls, roof and floors would require extensive repairs.
The state's Action Loans for Targeted Areas program provides loans to businesses that want to revitalize old buildings, including buildings that have been left vacant for some time, Mr. Schultz said. He said other state loans might also be available to a prospective buyer of the Farmers Supply property.
"Westminster has been sort of fortunate because its downtown didn't have a lot of vacant stores -- ever," Mr. Schultz said.
Mr. Dulany said the Farmers Supply property has attracted "several prospects, but no contracts." Part of the property is under short-term lease to a dealer of wood stoves and fireplaces, he said.
In Mr. Dulany's view, having to keep the stone building is a major obstacle to commercial development of the lot. The building itself "is not well constructed," he said. "I don't think it's an economically viable building."
The trustee said the stone structure discourages anyone from locating on the rest of the site because it blocks the view from Main Street of any building behind it.
The 118-year-old building, used initially by the B. F. Shriver Canning Co., is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Joseph M. Getty, director of the Historical Society of Carroll County, described it in 1991 as an example of industrial architecture.
Whether the local government will try to work with the trustees on the Farmers Supply property has not been determined. Mr. Beyard said the council will set its priorities for specific programs when it approves a working agreement with the Community Assistance Administration in the next few months.
Westminster tried for years to join the Main Street program before succeeding. Other communities on the roster include Laurel, Ellicott City, Gaithersburg and College Park.
"These are communities that have already done a lot for their downtowns," Mr. Schultz said.