Study recommends Annapolis consider innovative ways to attract new maritime businesses

A floating workspace made of shipping containers. Outside classrooms with sail-covered roofs. A development authority with the power to lend money and extend tax breaks to new and growing maritime businesses.

These are all recommendations in a Spurring Maritime Innovation in Annapolis study completed by the University of Maryland, which found that Annapolis maritime business is shrinking in the long-term but has made progress since the 2008 recession. It didn't cost the city anything to commission the study as the city had purchased multiple studies from the university previously.

"There is a common thread through all of these proposals that is required in order for them to work: the maritime community needs to unite," according to the UMD study. "The existing networks of those involved in maritime need to formalize and work together."

The study is part of a longer conversation and other studies the city has requested looking at the long-term projections of maritime health in Annapolis.

One of the study's major recommendations is the creation of a Maritime Development Authority. This entity, given the appropriate power, could provide loans for new and expanding businesses, tax incentives for relocating businesses, or construction of facilities for start-ups and other small businesses, according to the study. Authors of the study couldn't find maritime-specific authorities and recommended the authority emphasize maritime business but not exclude other businesses.

The study also recommends the city consider changes to three of its maritime zones. Current maritime zoning areas have various restrictions in place to emphasize some development, namely maritime, while deterring others, such as restaurants and launderettes.

Changes to these zones would open up more possibilities for different maritime uses, such as creating a makerspace. Makerspaces are physical locations where curious people and small business entrepreneurs have resources to build and tinker when they can't afford their own machinery. The Naval Academy has a makerspace thanks to joint efforts by the academy's Computer Science Department and the Center for Cybersecurity Studies.

While the study recommends zoning changes, Planning and Zoning Director Pete Gutwald said the city would do more research before considering any such changes.

Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, asked pointed questions about potential zoning changes because of concerns it would mean less emphasis on traditional maritime businesses.

"Anytime you talk about zoning changes you lose maritime," Arnett said. "I'm very wary about changing zoning."

In Annapolis, space is limited, so the study also recommends the city consider partnering with the Annapolis Maritime Museum and building the makerspace at the Ellen O. Moyer Back Creek Nature Park as part of the museum's plan to relocate its headquarters there.

The vision of that makerspace includes an attachment to the museum as well as a floating makerspace workshop, using shipping containers stacked on floating platforms, according to the study.

While these projects sound like they will make a difference, a big challenge will be funding them. That's part of Hollis Minor's focus. As the city's economic development manager, she wants maritime businesses to succeed in Annapolis, but the city doesn't have the money to bankroll them.

"My goal is (the) city would not have to spend any money," Minor said. "We will need to support in terms of our legislation."

Elly Tierney, a Democratic candidate for Ward 1, attended a Thursday City Council work session on the study, where she raised concerns about the city's previous actions.

Previously the city tweaked the maritime zone near the 110 Compromise St. to motivate businesses to buy into the building by decreasing maritime requirements and expanding space availability for restaurants. Officials denied the zoning change was just for 110 Compromise St.

"Why did we change that zone before we saw the results of this study?" Tierney asked. "Isn't that putting the cart before the horse?"

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