Team of experts surveying Westminster's Main Street

State panel to offer advice on revitalization after visiting county seat

November 09, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A team of revitalization experts will be in Westminster this week, poking around Main Street's shops and offices and asking questions to come up with ways to spruce up the city's main drag.

The Main Street Resource Team -- made up of state revitalization and historic preservation experts -- will meet with city officials, survey merchants and talk with tourists for a report to city officials on revitalizing the three-mile-long corridor.

"We want to get a look at things and see exactly what is going on," said Cynthia Stone, a member of the group and coordinator of the Main Street Maryland program for the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

The four-member group was to meet with the mayor and city historic preservation officials today, have a working lunch with Greater Westminster Development Corp., the city's nonprofit business community partner, and talk with merchants and customers.

The group will make a preliminary report at Westminster City Hall at 7 p.m. Thursday and issue a final report this fall.

"They're the experts, so we'll value whatever advice they give us," said Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan.

Seven areas chosen

The tour and report are the result of a decision in June by the state Department of Housing and Community Development to designate Westminster and six other communities in Maryland for revitalization efforts.

The other communities are Cumberland, Denton, Easton, Mount Rainier, Oakland and the Charles Village section of Baltimore, Stone said.

Stone said a community's revitalization package has no specific formula or set of solutions.

"The recommendations for each area are different because each area has different assets and different priorities," Stone said.

City officials, who lobbied for the designation, say they have been working to revitalize Main Street for several years.

Douglas Mathias, executive director of Greater Westminster Development Corp., said revitalization efforts go back at least five years, when a consultant's report detailed ways to improve commerce and attract businesses to Westminster.

"We've been working for years to give merchants any form of development financing that's available," Mathias said.

Competition for business

City officials say nothing is wrong with downtown Westminster, but it must compete with businesses along the Route 140 corridor in the same way that main streets across the country compete with strip malls and large shopping centers for customers.

"A downtown is an organic entity that constantly needs refreshing and is constantly changing and constantly needs attention," said Kevin Dayhoff, a Westminster Common Council member.

Yowan said that past revitalization efforts have included working with merchants to rezone parcels for commercial development and helping them obtain low-interest loans to open or expand businesses.

"The way I see it, Main Street is like a painting that we've been working on," Yowan said. "It looks good so far, but it's not finished yet."

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