Council considers steps to improve downtown

January 06, 1995|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

Downtown Westminster could become an after-dark shopping area where well-lighted storefronts welcome pedestrians, police on foot patrol assure safety and signs make it easy for strangers to find the parking lots.

City Council members, local business leaders and interested citizens considered those ideas and others last night in a discussion session on how to make downtown, in Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr.'s words, "alive and bustling with people."

The discussion focused on recommendations in a market analysis of downtown Westminster released in November.

The study, done for the city by Virginia-based consultants HyettPalma, predicted that downtown businesses could increase their share of the local retail market from 3.5 percent to 4 percent or 4.5 percent by the year 2000 -- if the merchants and city government work on what the consultants call an "enhancement strategy."

HyettPalma recommended actions to: retain and recruit businesses; cluster similar businesses in districts; spur real estate investment and use key buildings effectively; assure public safety; manage parking; designate an historic district to maintain downtown charm; market local businesses.

The Greater Westminster Development Corp., an organization of local business people dedicated to marketing downtown, is expected to take the lead in areas such as retaining and recruiting businesses and real estate development.

City government would deal with public safety, parking and traffic and zoning changes that would be required to create clusters of similar businesses.

R. Douglas Mathias, GWDC executive director, said the organization probably will reject a recommendation by HyettPalma that downtown businesses, government leaders and lenders create an investment consortium to help businesses get loans.

The nearly two dozen council members, business people and citizens brought their own ideas to the brainstorming session.

Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein proposed sending welcoming letters to all new Western Maryland College students that would point out the amenities available in town and tap into students' buying power.

David Max, chairman of GWDC's economic development committee, said he hopes to have a commitment by next month from downtown merchants to be remain open for evening hours one night a week.

City Council members agreed by consensus to ask the County Commissioners to open the Westminster library late Friday evening, Saturday evening and Sunday during the day. Councilman Damian L. Halstad failed to get the commissioners' approval for the proposal last year, however.

Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan reported that the city is applying for grant money to hire two additional police officers, one of whom city officials hope to put downtown on foot patrol. The city has one officer on foot patrol downtown during daylight hours.

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