Region aims to draw tourism by promoting cultural sites

Committee proposes using state, local funds for 3 major projects

November 22, 1999|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

A group of community and business leaders has developed an ambitious plan to turn South Anne Arundel County into a vacation destination.

The Annapolis, London Town and South County Heritage Area Steering Committee presented a proposal last week to use state and local money to promote and preserve area cultural heritage sites. The plan could bring in $70 million in tourist revenue and create 1,000 jobs after five years, the committee estimates.

"This is another way of planning the future of our county," said Ann M. Fligsten, a committee member. "Tourism is going to happen, and this is just a way to manage it and direct it."

The committee will present the plan, which outlines three major projects and several other initiatives, to the Annapolis city council and Anne Arundel County Council for approval.

If granted, the committee will ask the state to make the area, which is bounded by U.S. 50, Solomons Island Road, the waterfront and county line, a certified heritage area. The designation means that preservation and tourism efforts in the area are eligible for financial and technical assistance from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and other state agencies.

Created in 1996 by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the state authority promotes historic preservation to stimulate economic development through tourism. The state has one certified heritage area -- Cumberland Place -- and nine recognized areas, including the Annapolis-South County area.

A recognized area receives money from the state to draft a plan to become a certified area. The nine are preparing draft action plans to submit for approval, said Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

Financial assistance from the state may be in the form of marketing grants; loans for preservation, restoration, programming and economic development; and state income tax and mortgage credits. Each certified area is responsible for securing matching funds from the private sector and local governments.

The steering committee received a $50,000 grant from the state two years ago to organize and hire the consulting firm of Wallace, Roberts and Todd of Philadelphia to develop a tourism blueprint for South County.

Fligsten said the three targeted projects are: improving historic London Town House and Gardens, moving and expanding the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County visitors center, and building a museum for the Historic Annapolis Foundation.

"We have lots of small things that can be done, but these three would have a tremendous impact on the region," Fligsten said. The London Town improvements include improving access and parking, creating a pedestrian plaza, moving the horticulture complex and landscaping. The changes could double the number of annual visitors to 45,000, the report says.

But it starts with the visitors center, said David Hamme, a consultant with Wallace, Roberts and Todd. Hamme said a larger center could be built on state-owned land bounded by Rowe Boulevard, Calvert Street and College Creek.

Construction could begin as early as 2001.

The other targeted project is the museum for the Historic Annapolis Foundation. To be in a former school building on Green Street, about a block from the City Dock, the museum would provide changing attractions to encourage multiple visits and an overview of other heritage sites in the area.

The report says planning could be completed during 2001 with construction starting that year.

The report also calls for roadway improvements to the Route 2 interchanges at U.S. 50 and Route 450 and left-turn access from Rowe Boulevard to the proposed visitors center in Annapolis, Hamme said.

Although the presentations of the plan were sparsely attended, Fligsten said, some participants raised concerns about extending the border of the heritage area to the Patuxent River and bringing too much traffic and development into the area.

"We have heard some objections," Fligsten said. "There's a fear that we're talking about high-rise developments coming into South County, but that's not the case."

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