Mount Airy sees future in town's past

April 24, 2005|By Katie Martin | Katie Martin,SUN STAFF

By the mid-1800s, Mount Airy's Main Street was a bustling location, with a train station, a general store and residences for some of the first families in the area. Main Street was the center of a community built upon the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

Even when the railroad that ran through downtown made its last run in the mid-20th century, the town was still experiencing growth spurts.

Along with Carroll County, the town of Mount Airy is growing again. Town officials and community members are trying to revitalize the downtown area by creating a business district that emphasizes the town's historic character.

The $7.5 million renovation of an old bank building on Main Street will be the catalyst for the revitalization, according to planners, who say it will create economic opportunities and bring people downtown.

About 30 businesses are already on Main Street, said Amy Lubick, president of the Mount Airy Main Street Association, one of the groups working to revive the downtown area. Several stores have opened within the past year, and a few others will open soon.

"It's an exciting time for our Main Street," Lubick said.

The town, off Route 27, has a population of more than 7,400, according to the last U.S. census. The town was incorporated into both Carroll and Frederick counties in 1894 and remains divided between the two counties today, said B.J. Dixon, town clerk.

"We have a few people who have part of their property in Frederick and part in Carroll," Dixon said. The county line runs from the south end of Main Street, up the center of the road before branching off to the west at Sunset Avenue.

Town Hall is on the Carroll County side, as is the old F&M Bank building that is soon to be restored.

The red-brick bank building dates to the early 1900s and is on North Main Street at Prospect Street. The project involves renovating the vacant building to create new retail and office space, said Rob Scranton, president of CBI Development LLC.

Scranton's firm is in charge of the project, called Prospect Mill, which also involves the creation of a 163-space, two-level parking garage behind the redeveloped area.

"I really believe it will be the catalyst which sparks further interest in the whole Main Street effort to revitalize the downtown district," said Scranton, a Mount Airy resident.

"We're hoping to attract businesses to the upper level of the building that would otherwise relocate someplace like an industrial park," Scranton said. "We are trying to bring back some real business to downtown, in addition to the quaint little shops," he said. "We want it to be a vibrant economy."

Renovation is scheduled to begin this year after the county and town finish reviewing site and architectural plans.

Mayor James S. Holt said several stores have expanded or moved in to fill vacancies that existed along Main Street.

"Being a coffee connoisseur myself, I especially look forward to the new coffeeshop soon to open up next door to Town Hall," he said.

Julie Kennedy, a Main Street business owner, said the redevelopment of the downtown area sparked her to open Inspiration Point, a home decor and furnishings store.

"It was the revitalization program and the design of the historic Main Street that got me interested in taking that leap from being in the corporate business world to being a small-business owner," said Kennedy, who moved to the Mount Airy area six years ago. Her store opened in October, and she said it has been well-received, due in part to the growth and new development.

Inspiration Point is in an old building that Kennedy said was built in the 1800s and used to house a department store.

"My store was the men's section, and the restaurant next door was the women's section," Kennedy said. "I get a lot of the old-timers still coming in and telling me, `I used to buy my clothes here.'"

Store owners on Main Street have been working to draw customers downtown through a program begun last month called the Second Saturday Main Street Stroll.

On the second Saturday of every month, owners extend business hours from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and offer promotions to encourage customers to come downtown, said Alexis McKenzie, co-owner of When Pigs Fly, an art gallery.

Customers are "really excited that Mount Airy is coming alive again," McKenzie said. "Most people are very excited about the Saturday Night Stroll because Frederick does it too."

Shop owner Ellie Bonde said Scranton's project will provide parking that the town "desperately needs."

"It will just enhance everything that's here," she said. "The more that we have, the more people will come."

Bonde is the co-owner of two Main Street shops -- a baby boutique called The Secret Stork, which opened last month, and a full-service florist called the Blossom and Basket Boutique, which opened four years ago.

Bonde said the downtown boom has been wonderful for the town.

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