Harford legislators seek state funds for historical society, old train station, new park, amphitheater

Receiving organizations would be required to match any state funds

Robert Tarring, president of an ad-hoc committee formed to oversee the restoration of Aberdeen's historic B&O Railroad station, estimates it could cost more than half a million dollars to restore the building to its 1885 glory.

"It's our job as a board to renovate the exterior of the station to as close to 1885 as we can get," Tarring said Wednesday. "A lot of construction is going to have to be done to restore that station to where it was."

He called a state bond bill, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Norman to obtain a grant worth up to $50,000 for the restoration of the station, "a start" to the massive fundraising campaign that will be necessary to raise an estimated $500,000 to $600,000 in construction costs.

Senate Bill 731 among four introduced by Harford County legislators during this year's session of the Maryland General Assembly to obtain state grants to support community construction projects. Other bills seek funding toward the renovation of the Historical Society of Harford County headquarters in Bel Air, development of a new park in Havre de Grace and for an amphitheater south of Bel Air.

Any funding approved would be matched by the receiving organization, according to the legislation.

If SB-731 is approved, the grant would go to the Aberdeen Room Archives and Museum.

Tarring's 11-member committee was formed under the auspices of the Aberdeen Room, which will receive the title to the station once the current owner, the Historical Society of Harford County, has completed preparation of the site off West Bel Air Avenue, which involves building a new foundation and grading a site.

"It's a start, Tarring said of Norman's bill. "We have benefactors in Aberdeen who are waiting to write a check to help us out, but they want the title and stock in our hands before they do that."

The station, which had been moved about 50 feet from its former location along the CSX rail line that runs through the city, was placed on a new foundation last spring.

The Aberdeen Room's nonprofit entity will collect funds for the renovations and then steer them to Tarring's committee, which does not yet have a name, but members have considered something along the lines of "Friends of the Aberdeen B&O Train Station," he said.

Tarring said his group will oversee the restoration of the exterior of the station, and then whichever entity leases the space will configure the interior to its needs.

Tarring, who is a native of Aberdeen and currently lives in Towson, noted all of the board members are Aberdeen natives.

"All are very dedicated to getting this done properly," he said.

Norman, a Republican who represents much of central and eastern Harford and western Cecil County, has also introduced SB-396 to grant $100,000 toward the ongoing restoration of the Harford Historical Society's North Main Street headquarters in Bel Air.

Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, a Democrat from Havre de Grace, has introduced House Bill 1577 to fund a grant of up to $500,000 to the City of Havre de Grace to create the American Indian First Contact Waterfront Heritage Park.

Lisanti and four of her Republican colleagues in the Harford County delegation – Dels. Rick Impallaria, Andrew Cassilly, Pat McDonough and Kathy Szeliga – are sponsoring House Bill 793 to fund a grant of up to $200,000 toward development of an amphitheater on the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts property south of Bel Air at the intersection of Route 24 and Wheel Road. Impallaria is the primary sponsor.

"It's an absolutely beautifully-located piece of property, and for the county to have the opportunity to put an arts center there is no different than Baltimore City having Patterson Park in a very valuable part of the city," Impallaria said Wednesday.

He expects the planned arts center to become a regional attraction for Harford County.

"It's not just going to be an arts center for Harford County," Impallaria said. "It will be an attraction that will bring business into restaurants and different entertainment venues in Harford County."

Sen. Robert Cassilly, brother of Andrew Cassilly, is sponsoring companion legislation in the Senate to obtain bond money for the arts center amphitheater.

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