Changes for the better as group looks to improve Catonsville's Main Street

One year ago, Catonsville 2020 released the results of a study that provided recommendations for improvements along the Frederick Road corridor.

Since then, the group has merged with another group of volunteers, created a revitalization grant program for Frederick Road and made some improvements along Catonsville's busy main street.

It is also continuing to seek answers to challenges such as parking and increasing awareness of what area businesses offer.

Adequately designated parking is a major issue in the retail district.

Kirby Spencer, a member of the group, said that parking is available in Catonsville's downtown business area, but it is often hard to tell if that parking is reserved for a specific store or business.

"There is absolutely no shortage of parking," Spencer said. "It's just 90 percent of it is private."

The committee is working with business owners who control that private parking and is also making progress on making public parking more accessible.

As of March 13, the county has approved a new kiosk parking payment system to be installed in Catonsville to replace the current meters.

That would allow customers and shoppers in the Frederick Road corridor to pay for parking in front of one store, then drive down or walk down the street to go to a different store without having to feed money to a different meter.

In terms of branding, the group is adding the final touches to a new logo for the Paradise business district for store owners in the Frederick Road district east of the Baltimore Beltway exit to display.

"It really gives merchants an opportunity to have a consistent theme that people will attach to the Paradise area," said Scott Graham, a committee co-chair.

He said that businesses in the Paradise area were so receptive to the idea the group is beginning to develop a similar one for Catonsville as well.

In late March of 2012, Catonsville 2020 presented reports to the business community and area residents regarding the challenges and successes in Catonsville since the last study, Catonsville 2000.

"We were charged and financed with the task of reassessing the business plan, you might say, as an update of Catonsville 2000 and looking at where that business plan met its goals and failed," said Spencer, a Catonsville resident and real estate agent.

Spencer is a member of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce's Economic Development Committee, with which the Catonsville 2020 organization merged less than a year ago.

According to Graham, co-chairman of the Economic Development Committee, the 2020 organization and the chamber committee were discussing many of the same business and community issues in two different places.

"We decided, what the heck, we're all volunteers, we value our time. Why are we meeting twice on the same issues?," Graham said.

"So I just suggested to the group that we fold up our tent, hand off our recommendations to the chamber and give our remaining budget," he said.

The two groups merged and used the funding left over from studies relating to Catonsville 2020 to create a grant program.

The program provides grants of up to $5,000, but recipients must match the donation they receive.

"It's one of those things where people value it more if they actually have to participate and find resources to accomplish something," Graham said.

"This is a program where we can match funds for a project that we believe will benefit the business community at large," said Ellen Hemmerly, the other Economic Development Committee co-chair.

Some of the projects funded in the past year include painting the bus shelter on Frederick Road near Matthew's 1600 and painting "Life is Great in 21228!" on the bench outside of the Catonsville post office on Frederick Road.

"Sometimes you can do little things that kind of are catalysts for bigger projects," Graham said.

"People see improvements and changes and that kind of reinforces change and gives people an idea that this is a great place to live and they want to be involved too," he said.

Hemmerly said she is pleased with the progress the group has made in one year and excited about the upcoming projects the group is funding.

"I think that we're definitely making progress, and that we're on track to realize some of the recommendations," Hemmerly said.

'There's more consensus among property owners and business owners in Catonsville that a lot of the recommendations of the 2020 report are really good recommendations," she said.

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