Maryland awards Westminster $510,000 for revitalization

Money for downtown coincides with cash for Taneytown, Sykesville

October 30, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai and Mary Gail Hare | Athima Chansanchai and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A campaign to revitalize one of Westminster's downtown neighborhoods made big strides yesterday when the state awarded the city more than half a million dollars in grants to build a community center and install streetlights.

The city asked for $736,000 in Community Legacy money and was awarded $510,000 in state grants for the construction of Union Street Community Center and the installation of streetlights for the Lower Pennsylvania Avenue area, a neighborhood targeted for improvement because of its struggles with crime, declining property values and a high number of municipal code violations.

Community Legacy grants, distributed by state housing officials and designed to revitalize neighborhoods, also were awarded to Sykesville for a community center and to Taneytown to enhance its downtown storefronts.

The grant money for Westminster will help it tackle nearly two dozen improvements suggested for the Pennsylvania Avenue area by a task force that met throughout the summer.

"This money moves us forward with two important parts of the Pennsylvania Avenue initiative," said City Councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro, a member of the task force.

He praised Gov. Parris N. Glendening for the grant, pointing out that the governor also approved $212,800 in Community Legacy money for improvements to a downtown pedestrian mall and a homeownership program last year. The 40-member task force submitted 21 recommendations to the mayor and Common Council on ways to improve an area on Pennsylvania Avenue between Monroe and West Main streets and on West Main Street between Carroll Street and McDaniel College.

Recommendations focused on homeownership initiatives and neighborhood aesthetics. Last month, four of those ideas were put on an application for Community Legacy money. The program is in its second year of providing money for neighborhood revitalization projects.

The city received its entire request of $450,000 for its top priority, a community center on Union Street that would be the site of youth activities, said Karen A. Blanford, manager of the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. She said it was the largest Community Legacy request the city has made.

Of the grant money destined for the city, $60,000 is from the Community Legacy program. That money is to be used for brighter streetlights on Pennsylvania Avenue and its side streets - a project for which the city requested $116,000. The need for more illumination was hammered home after a tour taken by the task force after one of its meetings. Members concurred with residents who have complained about how the dark streets make them feel unsafe and give cover to criminal activity.

The money for the community center, also announced yesterday, is from the state's Community Development Block Grant program.

The city's other requests, which were not honored, were $160,000 for a loan program for exterior renovations at reduced interest rates and $10,000 for the continuance of a homeownership incentive designed to attract more people to older parts of the city.

Sykesville also will use a $140,000 grant for a community center. The money will help pay for renovations on one of the Warfield Buildings, a complex of 12 former state hospital buildings that the town is restoring into a business and academic center.

The century-old brick building has a cafeteria and an auditorium, making it ideal for town social and political activities, said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman.

The renovations are expected to cost about $400,000. The town will look for other funding sources and might borrow what it does not receive in grant money, Herman said.

Taneytown received $25,000 in a grant to improve the facades of its downtown storefronts.

"It'll go toward enhancing storefronts to try to make it more attractive," said Nancy B. McCormick, the city's economic development director. "We're tickled. We really are."

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