Downtown celebrates its crown jewel Governor, mayor help kick off renewal of Farmers Supply site

Main St. walking tour

Yowan and Dell note city's evolution from its agricultural roots

March 03, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening took some not-so-ceremonial whacks at a decrepit building in downtown Westminster yesterday, crumpling metal and crashing boards to begin project that many see as the crown jewel of the city's revitalization.

The $6.6 million redevelopment of the former Farmers Supply Co. complex, one block off Main Street at Liberty and Green streets, is foremost among developments downtown.

Carroll County Bank and Trust Co. plans for the one-acre site include a parking garage with a two-story office building above it, a five-story retail and office tower, and renovation of a stone building dating from 1866.

"This is part of our vision for the entire state," Glendening told the crowd. "We are trying to prevent the sprawl that is eating up our agricultural land, our open space, and to preserve our communities."

The state is contributing $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant money for the bank project and will assist with a bond for a 200-space parking garage.

"The taxpayers' money should be used to help revitalize, to help growth and prosperity within communities like Westminster," he said.

The governor's visit downtown began at the Paradiso Italian Restaurant on Locust Lane, and its future home in the long-vacant Glass House.

The entourage of state, county and city officials and business people then wandered along Main Street, with a stop at the new Coffey Music in the old Mather's department store, and wound up with the governor taking the controls of a front-end loader.

Coffey and Paradiso received low-interest state loans that enabled the owners to move into distinctive vacant properties.

The loan to Coffey Music was the first in Carroll County since the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development began the Neighborhood Business Development Program almost three years ago.

Paradiso owner Sal Romeo received a loan under the same program. Work has been under way for several months on a new Paradiso restaurant in a building at the Sherwood Distillery complex. The building is known as the Glass House for its hundreds of panes.

Construction on the bank complex at Liberty and Green streets could begin in October and could be completed a year later.

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan quoted his grandson as saying he was "coming to see the government, rather than governor. But I think he was right because every level of government," from federal to municipal, has participated in the bank project.

Changing economy noted

"This is indeed the crown jewel of our redeveloped downtown," the mayor said. "It represents the shift of our economy from its agricultural roots to a center for regional business."

County Commissioner Donald I. Dell, a farmer, recalled "the days when everybody came downtown to Westminster."

At the stone building some 50 years ago, "on Saturday nights, we used to have dances on the second floor here, doing the Paul Jones. That second floor used to buckle. They were good times."

Dell, who wore his farmer's hat, stood near the model for the bank's new office-and-retail complex and recounted the intersection's past: Here a slaughterhouse, there a feed store or fertilizer plant, across the road a stockyard.

The Farmers Supply buildings stood empty for seven years -- at one point threatened by demolition -- until the city formed the nonprofit Westminster Town Center Corp. to take an option on the property.

That corporation probably will seek assistance, too, from the Neighborhood Business Development Program to fix the roof of the old stone building, said Karen K. Blandford, Westminster's administrator of housing and community development.

Getting the state-backed loan was crucial to the plans of Robert M. Coffey, who bought the T. W. Mather & Sons building soon after the century-old department store closed in the fall of 1996.

Mather and Coffey

Mather's closing marked the end of an era for many shoppers and caused anxiety about a large vacant building on Main Street. That ended almost immediately when Coffey announced plans to move his 12-year-old Coffey Music business from the nearby Winchester Exchange.

"We really couldn't have done the project without it," he said of the loan for his new digs at 31 E. Main St.

The first floor is devoted to sales space for instruments and accessories, and nine studios for instruction. The second floor also has lesson rooms, and he has room to expand with studios and a recital hall.

Coffey Music moved last fall, soon after Coffey received the commitment letter for a $325,000 low-interest loan through the Neighborhood Business Development Program.

Paradiso's received a loan of $250,000 loan that enabled the restaurant to proceed.

"We'll try in May," Romeo said yesterday when asked about his opening date. "Things are moving pretty good right now, but I'm not going to book any parties in May. It might be June."

The state program serves as "gap financing," intended to make up a financing shortfall to allow a project to go forward. Hundreds of small businesses have applied to the program, which is in its third year.

Westminster applications enjoy an advantage under state guidelines that say projects should contribute to a broader revitalization effort -- such as the reuse of a vacant building.

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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