"It's really a great example of a community coming together to better the place that they live, work and play," said Mike Maraziti, president of Fell's Point Main Street Inc., a nonprofit that promotes commerce in the neighborhood.
About 30 businesses and a few residents chipped in more than $150,000 to hire the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore Inc. to empty garbage cans, sweep sidewalks and provide safety patrols, said Maraziti, who owns One-Eyed Mike's tavern, near the corner of South Bond and Aliceanna streets. Those funds will cover a year of services, he said, and will supplement city maintenance.
This is the first expansion for the nonprofit Waterfront Partnership since its creation in 2005. Unlike the business districts it was created to serve — the Inner Harbor and Harbor East — the funding for services in Fells Point will come solely from donations by business owners and residents there. Services in the partnership's original footprint are supported largely by a tax surcharge on commercial properties along the harbor.
"They've seen the difference the Waterfront Partnership has made in the Inner Harbor and Harbor East," said Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership, which is starting its work in Fells Point on Thursday. Cleaning crews will begin by power-washing Broadway Square, removing graffiti and stickers and weed-whacking, she said.
The business leaders supporting the enlargement hope that once other store owners and residents see the benefits of having supplementary services, they won't hesitate to contribute funds and the Waterfront Partnership's service area will be able to expand further.
"People are going to see the advantages and they're going to want to join in," said Ron Furman, owner of Max's Taphouse, which has been at the northeast corner of Broadway Square for more than a quarter-century. He's contributing between $5,000 and $10,000 for the year — "a small drop in the bucket with all of the pluses that you can get from it," he said.
For the moment, the Waterfront Partnership will be taking care of most of Thames Street, the street lined with shops and restaurants that is closest to the harbor, and two blocks of South Broadway, from the harbor north to Aliceanna Street.
Cleaning staff is scheduled during the summer to work Friday through Monday from 6:30 a.m. until 11 p.m., Maraziti said.
The early start should mean that garbage cans are emptied and streets are swept before store and restaurant employees begin arriving to work, he said. Safety staffing will be concentrated during peak business hours, and staffing for both services will decrease in the slower winter months, he said.
"I think we can make an enormous difference in the first couple days," Schwartz said.
The Waterfront Partnership hired seven staff members to handle the expansion, she said. Although the community is benefiting from the organizational infrastructure of the partnership, the work in Fells Point is not being supported by funds other than those raised by the community, she confirmed.
Business owners in Fells Point started talks with the Waterfront Partnership about a year ago, Maraziti said. Overflowing garbage cans, graffiti and dirty streets were detracting from the neighborhood's unique offerings, he said, and they needed help to address those problems.
"It's a mess, especially on the weekends," Maraziti said. "It's pretty unsightly, and businesses weren't taking ownership."
The city is supposed to empty public trash receptacles three times a day, he said, but that is not sufficient to keep up during the busiest times. Trash blowing into the harbor is not the picture visitors to Fells Point should remember, Maraziti said.
"The competition's fierce out there," Furman said. "We need to have people have a great experience when they come down here."
Some business owners are resistant to paying for the Waterfront Partnership's intervention, Maraziti said. They believe that their tax payments should be sufficient to support services for the community. Others are waiting to see how the relationship works out before contributing, he said.
Businesses are asked to buy into the expansion based on their business volume. Businesses with more revenue are asked to pay more, Maraziti said. Those who contribute will receive a gold medallion sticker — marking them as a "Committed Business" or "Committed Resident — next week to display in their windows. Maraziti said he hopes that customers will support businesses with the medallion, knowing that they have invested in making the area cleaner and safer.
"Paying a common area maintenance fee is not a random thing," said Nicholas Johnson, owner of Su Casa, a furniture store on South Bond Street. He pays a fee for common area maintenance at one of his other locations, in Towson, so he doesn't balk at putting out $5,000 a year to improve the streetscape near his Fells Point store, he said.
He calculates that the new business brought in by cleaner, patrolled streets will easily make up for the outlay, he said.
"By creating a better environment, they'll be able to attract more people," Schwartz agreed.