Bank to back U.S. 1 revival

Citizens National plans low-interest loan program for commercial projects

`This is a great step'

Officials hope move inspires others to become involved in the corridor

April 10, 2002|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Citizens National Bank announced yesterday a $10 million, low-interest loan program designed to spur development along U.S. 1.

Howard County leaders had long hoped to attract such a program to provide economic support to the road, which the county has targeted for redevelopment.

"It's the kind of thing that we've been trying to promote. ... This is a great step in that direction," said Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat who represents much of the area around U.S. 1.

The program, which was announced at a breakfast meeting of politicians and business leaders yesterday, will remain in effect until the $10 million has been allocated or Dec. 31 of next year - whichever comes first. The interest on all loans will be half a percentage point below the bank's prime rate; below-market, fixed-rate financing also will be available.

The minimum loan will be $50,000 and the maximum will be $1 million. All funds must be used for work on commercial property along the road and must be paid back within 25 years.

Loan applications will be reviewed by bank officials, and the projects must be approved by the Howard County Economic Development Authority, which will screen them to make sure they will be compatible with U.S. 1. The road is a mishmash of commercial and residential properties with second-hand stores, gas stations and motels. County officials hope to remake the area into an upscale Main Street atmosphere of retail and office space.

"This will help the businesses ... take a first step," said Dace Blaumantis, a county planner involved in the revitalization effort.

Citizens National Bank, a Mercantile Bankshares Corp. affiliate, serves parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties and all of Howard County. It sponsored a similar $3 million program on Main Street in Laurel, Prince George's County, in 1998 and has been in discussions with Howard officials for more than a year.

A group of volunteers has spent the past year studying ways to improve the road; county officials plan to start implementing some of their suggestions, including adding new signs along the road, this summer.

"It seemed like a good time to start the program," said Glenn L. Wilson, executive vice president of Citizens National.

Wilson said the bank would be open to extending the loan program or increasing the amount of money available for loans if the program proves successful. "We'd like to do more," he said.

While Guzzone hopes that other businesses will follow Citizens' example and get involved economically in the corridor, he cautioned that there is still much work to be done on U.S. 1.

"There's all these different pieces, and [the loan program] just happens to be one of them," he said.

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