Overlooked Arnold wants to be `more than a ZIP code'

Campaign aims to define identity of Arundel town

April 11, 2005|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

They take pride in their hometown, boasting about the quality of its schools, the good cheer of its residents and its proximity to the Chesapeake Bay.

But ask any native of Arnold - the small community just north of Annapolis on the opposite side of the Severn River - what puts their town on the map and many will be hard-pressed for an answer.

"Hmm, I don't think Arnold is really known for anything," said Tina Palmer, co-owner of Arnold Farms garden store. "Except that we're this little strip of land."

Steve Ruck, owner of the Arnold Bike Doctor repair shop and a longtime resident of the town, agreed.

"When I tell people our shop is in Arnold they ask, `Where's that?'" said Ruck. "Because we're sandwiched between Annapolis and Severna Park, a lot of people forget about us."

There's no question about it: Arnold is often overlooked. That's why longtime resident Anne Fligsten recently launched a campaign called the Scenic Arnold/Severna Park Gateway Project, a $140,000 public-private effort aimed at defining the community's image.

"People don't have any sense of Arnold," said Fligsten, president of the Arnold Preservation Council, a 200-member nonprofit group. "We want to be known as more than just a ZIP code."

Across the country, the branding of cities and towns - from Charlotte, N.C., to Augusta, Ga., to Santa Ana, Calif. - has become widespread. Seeking to attract tourists or new residents, many cities have enlisted the help of ad agencies and marketing strategists.

Baltimore has tried "Charm City" and "The City That Reads."

Fligsten said that the Arnold project is inspired in part by Eastport, the waterfront Annapolis community. In 1998, more than 400 residents of Eastport dressed in homemade battle gear and staged a "secession" from Annapolis to protest the temporary closure of the Spa Creek Bridge and promote their unity. It was an imaginative effort - one that succeeded in putting Eastport bars and shops on the map.

More recently, the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau has pumped money into a marketing campaign promoting the city with the motto "Come Sail Away."

"More and more cities are branding themselves," said Kathy Floam, president and creative director of the Pomerantz Agency, which created the Annapolis campaign. "And it's not just the cities people know by name; even the smaller ones are in the business of marketing."

Residents say that despite its nondescript image, Arnold is an idyllic place to live: a waterfront community filled with parks and tall trees. Bisected by Ritchie Highway - a thoroughfare lined by strips of stores - the community is home to Anne Arundel Community College and Bay Hills Golf Club, an 18-hole course.

In the past two decades, Arnold has grown from a rural farming community into a booming suburb of more than 25,000. Although it boasts good schools, stores and neighborhoods, Arnold has few of those traits that characterize American towns: no central square, no courthouse, no major tourist attractions.

When motorists pass through Arnold on Ritchie Highway, there's not even a welcome sign.

"A sign might be another good starting point for the project," Fligsten said.

At a recent community meeting, Fligsten took suggestions from residents on how to make Arnold more distinctive. Ideas ranged from the trendy ("How about a makeover?") to the traditional ("Build more sidewalks"). Fligsten said she hopes the project - funded by $115,000 from the state and $25,000 the council plans to raise - will transform Arnold into a more celebrated place.

"I'm tired of people asking `What's Arnold?'" Fligsten said. "I want us to dream together about an identity and a future for Arnold that won't obliterate its past."

According to Arnold residents, one of the community's best assets is its abundance of farms and foliage - which is the reason Fligsten launched her project with a plan to put flowers along Ritchie Highway. The planting effort is supported by Scenic Maryland, the State Highway Administration, the state Department of Natural Resources, the Greater Severna Park Chamber of Commerce, Anne Arundel Community College and the local Safeway store.

Scheduled to begin this spring, the planting will fill the median with varieties such as daffodils and day lilies.

"This will spruce Arnold up," said Fligsten. "But the idea is that this planting will be the catalyst for much more change to come."

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