Fixing Inner West Street Annapolis planning to pump $12 million into revitalization

'Our opportunity to grow'

Remaining businesses say city's input is vital, long overdue

November 04, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Inner West Street has seen better days.

After years of watching businesses flee the seven-block stretch for better venues in the county, Annapolis officials are scrambling to find $12 million to revitalize the once-thriving gateway that stretches from Church Circle to Taylor Avenue.

Because the city budget depends on a growing property tax base and annexing county land is often a long, contentious process, Annapolis officials say they must persuade new businesses to take over empty office space or build offices in the West Street corridor.

"It's not just a beautification project," said Susan K. Zellers, director of the city's Economic Development Office. "It's our opportunity to grow by attracting new businesses and redeveloping that corridor to make sure that we are economically viable in the next century.

"We need to prepare for the electronic and technological future," Zellers said. "My point is, can we afford not to pay for this?"

West Street business owners who have stuck it out say it's about time for the city to get involved.

"Oh, it's long overdue," said Bill Muehlhauser, owner of Ram's Head Tavern in the historic first block of West St. "We -- those of us who have made personal commitments -- have all been anxious about the development of this corridor.

"A city official said that if they build the proposed traffic circle, then the rest of it is up to businesses to step up to the plate," said Muehlhauser. "As a business owner, I've been standing at the plate for years now. I've been waiting for the city to throw the ball. It's not our turn -- it's their turn."

Zellers said the city is examining a number of funding methods, such as setting up a special tax district, asking for money from the state and county or possibly increasing the city's property tax to cover the debt on bonds for the project.

The city's capital budget includes $3.2 million toward the revitalization project. The Faux Group Inc., an urban designer hired by the city, has submitted a plan estimated to cost $17.6 million, but city officials say it is only a "vision" of what the area should look like.

That plan would include:

Building a traffic circle at Taylor Avenue and West Street.

Widening and repaving sidewalks and roads.

Upgrading and placing utilities underground.

Improving street lights.

"The original intent of the project was to recapture West Street as a center of business for the community," said Christopher Goettge, a designer with The Faux Group. "All small Maryland towns like Annapolis were very viable back in the day of sailing ships and horse and buggys. With the introduction of cars and malls and edge cities like Parole taking consumers and business away, this city lost some of its edge."

City officials say a more realistic price tag for the project would be about $12 million. The scaled-down version of the plan does not include renovating West Washington and Clay streets or other side streets connecting to West Street.

At the request of Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, the first phase of the project -- the $4.9 million construction of the traffic circle -- will begin before his term is over next year. The city council will hold a public hearing tonightto determine which of three traffic circle plans will be used in the project.

Renovating the rest of West Street, which will cost nearly $8 million, will be phased in over a five- to seven-year period.

"Some other projects might have to be put on the out years to make this project possible," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat who serves as chairman of the city finance committee. "Whether we like it or not, we're going to be required to act on this. The city cannot afford to have [better] office space across the county line. This is an investment for West Street.

"This is probably the most important economic decision this administration will make," Snowden said, "and it will have a profound impact on the economic health of the city."

Pub Date: 11/04/96

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