Ellicott City merchants would favor rail excursions, concerts, parking

April 29, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

A survey of merchants in historic Ellicott City shows support for some changes in the town, including train excursions from Baltimore and concerts on the grounds of the Patapsco Female Institute.

But more than anything, they still want more parking.

The two-page survey, distributed to merchants in March, is a response to nearly 40 proposals outlined a month earlier in a draft report by the Ellicott City Marketing Task Force.

Merchants organized the survey after vehemently rejecting a task force recommendation to create a special tax district for the area that would finance promotions, maintenance, security and other expenses. The report describes a five-year plan to improve marketing and tourism, operations, growth and development in the historic district.

Marsha McLaughlin, a task force member, said the survey results could change the focus of the group's report. "Clearly if there's wild enthusiasm for some task force projects we'll work it into the report," she said. The final version will be sent to County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

The Ellicott City Business Association polled about 50 entrepreneurs on the 46-page report's proposals.

Merchants supported many of the suggestions, including creation of a walking tour, a crime watch program and better protection against flooding. They also supported developing train excursions between the historic district and downtown Baltimore and adapting the grounds of the Patapsco Female Institute as a theater and concert facility.

But what Ellicott City needs most, merchants agreed, is more parking. About 40 entrepreneurs listed parking as the most crucial priority for their business. Nine participants listed parking as the only priority.

An automatic bank teller machine also was high on the list.

"We're creating jobs, and creating revenues," Mr. Costella said. "How can we grow without an adequate parking facility or ATM?"

A shopper who needs money now has to go to Route 40 for an ATM.

Although merchants were enthusiastic about some of the proposals, they flatly opposed others.

Of 37 task force recommendations, merchants rejected eight, including creation of a standard operating procedures manual that would govern store hours, and an umbrella organization with a full-time manager to implement the improvements.

They rejected 34-4 the suggestion for a special tax district. Eight respondents were neutral. Business owners in February criticized the idea, saying it could lead to limits on store hours and the type of merchandise sold, sacrificing the charm of Main Street by making stores too uniform.

Task force members had suggested making the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation the umbrella organization by restructuring its board and bylaws. But merchants say the improvement group is ill-prepared to operate a business district and is unnecessary because the business association already manages the promotional and marketing activities.

"They're not a business community association," said Robert J. Costella, co-owner of the E.C. Does It Cafe and a survey organizer. "We need the county to encourage membership in the Ellicott City Business Association."

Merchants say the survey has unified their goals.

"It provided the Business Association with an agenda," said Michael J. Kerwin, survey organizer and owner of an insurance-risk management agency. "It allowed the town to really say, 'OK, what do we want?' "

Other merchants agreed.

"The survey's helpful. We've learned a lot from it," said Nancy Gibson, vice president of the Forget-Me-Not Factory and a survey organizer. "It's opened a channel of communication with the government."

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