Two Harford cities join in bid for state funds Havre de Grace and Aberdeen apply for enterprise zone

March 17, 1996|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,SUN STAFF

Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, separated by just a few miles along U.S. 40, are taking the first steps toward partnership by applying jointly for the state's economic rejuvenation plan.

The towns, which have discussed combining some functions for more than a year, are hopeful they will win a coveted slot in Maryland's "enterprise zone" program. It provides tax credits and low-interest loans to new or expanding companies, as well as money for such aesthetic improvements as lighting and landscaping.

"We complement each other, we don't compete with each other," said Aberdeen Mayor Charles R. Boutin. He compares the Harford County towns to Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. cities that gradually merged into a single metropolitan area.

The enterprise zone program, managed by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, will announce successful applicants for its four available slots in mid-June.

Aberdeen, probably best known as the site of Aberdeen Proving Ground, has in recent years attracted large distribution and manufacturing operations, including Saks Fifth Avenue and Frito-Lay Inc. Havre de Grace has built its reputation on tourism, capitalizing on its waterfront, marinas and museums.

But the towns always have had to work together. Aberdeen, for example, has 1,200 hotel rooms while Havre de Grace, which wants to attract overnight visitors, has only a few bed-and-breakfast hotels.

The towns also have common problems: the down-at-the-heels stretch of U.S. 40 that connects them, and somewhat worn downtowns. Havre de Grace, though, has converted many of its old storefronts, such as grocery stores, into antique shops; Aberdeen has found it harder to attract retail businesses.

Enterprise zone funds would be used to landscape U.S. 40 and make it less costly for small businesses to open.

"We both have similar interests in the need to create jobs for our citizens that will strengthen our tax base," said Stan Ruchlewicz, Havre de Grace planning director.

Havre de Grace has a town-operated water and sewer system that Aberdeen already uses, he said.

And while Aberdeen has more large parcels of land, Havre de Grace can attract smaller companies with its infrastructure something he says Aberdeen has been building as it goes.

Still, there are occasional signs of friction between the towns.

Mayor Boutin takes credit for the enterprise zone application process. "We are happy to let Havre de Grace come along on our coattails; if we didn't they would have had to wait at least a year for another opportunity."

And he said Havre de Grace has been slow to staff a committee to discuss ways the towns can share resources, buying equipment together, for example.

Barry Anderson, assistant to Havre de Grace Mayor D. Gunther Hirsch, said it would be "premature" to discuss the towns' differences.

He agreed, though, that sharing such services as street maintenance would be a good fit.

Edgewood, to the south of Aberdeen along U.S. 40, received an enterprise zone designation about a year ago.

The community credits the program with encouraging landlords to renovate shopping centers and with the planned construction of a large business park, among other things.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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