New wayfinding kiosks erected around Bel Air

Residents and frequent visitors to the Town of Bel Air will notice a new addition, four large directional signs or kiosks, erected in the past week.

They'll also soon be seeing a new addition to the town's extensive public arts amenities, a metal sculpture that will be erected along busy Hickory Avenue by the entrance to the parking garage.

The signs/kiosks are the first manifestations of a wayfinding program town staff have developed and worked to implement over the past three years, Planning Director Kevin Small explained.

The two-sided kiosks contain a map of Bel Air with key places and attractions on one side and a historic Bel Air side that contains a map of historic buildings around the downtown areas and several archival photographs.

The kiosks are located by the entrance to the Risteau Building (District Court) parking lot at the corner of Bond and Thomas streets, at the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail trailhead on Williams Street, in Shamrock Park near Town Hall and near the entrance to the Main Street surface parking lot between the Main Street Tower restaurant and the Harford County Sheriff's Office headquarters. The latter kiosk has three sides.

Small said town government and the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, the nonprofit that promotes business and activities in town, jointly funded the kiosks development and production, spending approximately $10,000 apiece. The Alliance received a state grant for its share of the project. Contracts for the first four kiosks were approved about a year ago.

"I think they turned out well," said the planning director, who added that more kiosks are planned.

"We have money in the [next] budget for more," he said. "Actually, we need to install or replace 50 signs around town.

The kiosks were manufactured by, of West New York, N.Y. Shirl Fitzpatrick of One Main Creative in Bel Air did the graphics design. The last two were installed Saturday.

"They did a great job," Small said.

Among the archival photos on the kiosk by the Risteau Building parking lot is Bel Air Shopping Plaza, the town's "first shopping center," which was erected on that site in the 1950s and since torn down.

Other photos included "Betsy the Cow," who once grazed on the old Deaton Farm where Bel Air Town Center now stands; a Maryland National Guard encampment on the farm that became Tollgate Marketplace; the old Bel Air Race Track on what became the site of Harford Mall; a group of prominent Harford County citizens who made up the Agricultural Committee in the first decade of the 20th century; Civil War era Maryland governor Augustus Bradford – who was from Harford County; actor Edwin Booth; and the iconic shot of the local Company B of the 29th Division marching down Main Street in front of the Argonne Theater in 1943.

The kiosk at the trailhead has a map of the old railroad and photographs of buildings that were along the tracks, such as the Bel Air station, or in the north side of town where the railroad came through.

Small first proposed better wayfinding services for visitors during a May 2015 town retreat, where he also unveiled results of an unscientific Internet survey, in which a small sample of respondents said they liked to visit Bel Air to shop and eat, although most also said the town was known best for being either the seat of county government or a "historically significant community."

The survey also asked what kinds of information should be provided for visitors with public parking locations ranking first, events locations second and public restrooms third.

As for wayfinding assistance, directional signs ranked first, followed by signs identifying each destination and consistent graphics on signs third. Respondents also said phone apps would be most beneficial, along with a more interactive town website with links among town, county and state information sources.

Town Commissioner Brendan Hopkins praised the new kiosks during Monday night's town meeting.

"You did a great job on that," Hopkins told Small.

New sculpture

The Board of Town Commissioners approved spending $9,000 to acquire and install a metal sculpture, "Queen Anne's Lace," by the Hickory Avenue entrance to the parking garage.

Economic Development Director Trish Heidenreich said the sculpture was selected by the town Cultural Arts Commission as part of the ongoing public art amenities program which has fostered murals and other sculpture around town.

The planned location, which is within a block of downtown, Harford County Public Schools headquarters, the Bel Air Library and Town Hall, "is highly visible to pedestrians and motorists," she said. "It's a good place."

The scupture was produced in 2016 by Matthew Harris of Harris Metalsmith Studio in Perryville.

According to a fact sheet produced by the seller, "Queen Anne's Lace" is forged and fabricated mild steel, marine zinc primed and painted and is 70 inches by 65 inches by 62 inches.

Heidenreich said the sculpture portrays "a life-defining moment in nature."

"Inspired by one of my first walks through Ladew [Topiary Gardens], this piece echoes the complexity of this amazing wildflower," the sculptor writes. "While not portrayed in its classic, open array, I wanted to sculpt it in beautiful orb like form that I first saw it in the meadow, with the flowers still encapsulated in the seed-like forms."

Unlike some past public art projects that have been funded through required developer contributions under town development regulations, this one is entirely funded by the town through the Cultural Arts Commission's budget, Heidenreich said.

Angela Robertson, manager of the Bel Air Arts and Entertainment District, said Tuesday that "Queen Anne's Lace" will be installed over this summer.

"This is part of the Cultural Arts Commission's mission to integrate new pieces of public art that illustrate our community's commitment to the arts," Robertson said.

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