Bel Air architect Craig Ward is giving his downtown office building a makeover, peeling away the dated smoked glass to reveal its stone department store facade -- a reminder to passers-by of Main Street's roots as a shopping district.
Ward's is one of five downtown Bel Air businesses that have received grants for exterior upgrades, part of a $75,000 package from the state Department of Housing and Community Development and administered by the town.
Ward, who is also president of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, said the grant money "can really help get the ball rolling to have more renovation, entertainment and retail. That's really what we're after."
Ward estimates the facade improvements to his building will cost $75,000 to $100,000, but $25,000 of that will be covered by the grant.
The deadline for project work to begin is mid-June, and each recipient must match the funds by at least an equal amount, according to the grant guidelines.
Bel Air planning director Carol Deibel said the grants sprang from another program last year, which brought a state-retained architect to Bel Air to get owners dreaming of what their buildings could look like with some sprucing up. "Several of the property owners were very excited," Deibel said.
From that enthusiasm came the idea to write the grant application for state money to offset some of the owners' renovation costs, Deibel said, adding that the goal is to create a kind of domino effect. "We're going to be seeing a tremendous change in the exteriors of buildings in town," she said.
Elizabeth M. Carven, the town's former community development administrator, who wrote and administered the grants, said the program offers an incentive to businesses to improve dated exteriors. "It's just a push, especially in economic times like this."
These are the other grant recipients:
William Shutz, owner of Bel Air Auto Works, 100 Baltimore Pike, is to receive $14,500 for roof repairs, landscaping, fencing and a new parking lot.
Stephen J. King, whose law office is at 44 N. Main St., is to receive $20,000 for exterior renovation and construction of a courtyard facing Bond Street.
Van Bibber Partnership, 303-309 S. Main St., is to receive $7,500 for brick repointing and other repairs.
Frank Hajek and Associates, an accounting business at 25 W. Courtland St., is to receive $8,000 to replace the downspouts, front door and windows.
Hajek said he probably couldn't have afforded to replace the downspouts and the old aluminum-and-glass door without the grant. "It allows you to do things that would be cost-prohibitive," he said.
James Welch, downtown manager, said choosing five recipients instead of just one or two allowed the town to spread the impact of the funds from one end of downtown to the other, with a few stops in between. "We didn't give any one person everything he asked for," Welch said.
The goal was to make the most of the opportunity, Welch said, because funds might not be available next year.
He said he felt the alliance had done a good job of "sharing the wealth," and the results will be a visible reminder -- beyond the events such as the Barbecue Bash and outdoor movies -- of the town's commitment to re-energizing Main Street as a shopping and entertainment district.
"This is one real, concrete accomplishment where we have helped local businesses," Welch said. "That's our goal."