Main Street Association renews effort to revitalize Sykesville business district

Members hope to tap enthusiasm for downtown promotion

May 24, 2011|By Bob Allen

If attendance at a kick-off meeting last week to form a new Sykesville Main Street Association is any indication, then quite a few Sykesville residents, business owners and property owners are hungry to spark new life into downtown Sykesville.

Nearly 50 people turned out at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, on Main Street, May 12 to hear guest speaker Steve Moore, president and CEO of Washington, DC Economic Partnership, discuss The Main Street 4-Point Approach, which the town hopes to utilize to revive its sleepy Main Street.

Stewart Dearie, who owns Baldwin's Station, the Main Street restaurant in Sykesville's old B&O Railroad Station; and the Cork & Bottle Spirit Shop across the street, was one of the attendees.

He said he came away from the meeting with energy and enthusiasm, along with some fresh ideas.

"I came home ... excited and just pumped up like a little kid again," said Dearie, who, along with several other local business and property owners, serves on the new association's board of directors.

Dearie said Moore's presentation raised a central question for residents and business owners: What do they want their town to be?

"We need to come up with a hook," he said. "I think we came up with a great hook with this year's Sykesville Wine Festival (held May 15). A whole lot of people turned out for that, and it was even better than last year."

Dearie said he was surprised by the number of people he spoke with at the festival who lived in South Carroll but had never set foot on Sykesville's main drag.

Raising Main Street's profile with the outside world, he said, is one of the goals included in the 4-Point approach.

Dearie said the presentation also poked holes in some standard assumptions about the cost of such initiatives.

"Everyone thinks it takes a lot of money to revitalize a Main Street, but there were items that the speaker pointed out that sometimes can involve the simplest things that take no money — just creativity."

Ivy Wells, Sykesville's Main Street manager and director of economic development, said the next step for the association is to form four volunteer committees to implement projects that fall under four points comprising the approach laid out by Moore:

• Promotion — a focus on retail promotions, advertising and events to raise Main Street's profile and draw shoppers, tourists and visitors.

• Design — a plan for enhancing the downtown's aesthetics by improving streetscapes, landscapes, storefronts and window displays.

• Organization — a concerted effort to attract more volunteers and develop new methods and avenues for fundraising.

• Economic restructuring — strategizing to bring new businesses to Main Street as well as enhancing existing ones.

Wells said Moore identified one particular potential Main Street asset that she's had her eye on for years: the under-utilized gazebo near the Town House.

"Main Street needs a central meeting place, and right now, we're really missing that," Wells said. "We're missing a place where people can just sit and relax, and people watch: a gathering place.

"He also specifically emphasized our gazebo area, which has been a passion of mine for some time," she said.

"Right now, a lot of people don't even know it's there," she said. "It is deteriorating. It is hidden behind dead bushes.

"(But) it's an enormous gazebo, right next to Sykesville Town House, on the hill. The Christmas carolers sing there at Christmas, and it could really be improved and utilized as a Main Street gathering place," she said.

Former Sykesville Mayor Jon Herman attended the meeting and said he was impressed with the presentation — and even more impressed with the grassroots enthusiasm of residents and business owners.

"This could be a great beginning for the town of Sykesville's Main Street," he said.

But Herman, who also served on Sykesville's Planning Commission and Town Council before spending 14 years as mayor, said it's unclear if the town is poised to seize upon the grassroots enthusiasm.

"The town just received a $256,000 grant to revitalize South Branch Park, across the river in Howard County," he said. "But too often, you hear from the mayor and council that they don't have any money to do anything.

"The grant shows that there are opportunities; there is money out there," Herman said.

Wells said the next step in the 4-points process will be a Main Street Association organizational meeting, to be held 7 p.m. Monday, June 20, at the Town House.

"This first meeting will be a chance for people to figure out where they fit in to all this and how they want to help," Wells said. "We will kind of sort out our committees at that meeting."

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