The Town of Bel Air has been awarded a $175,000 state Community Legacy Program grant to be used for the installation of infrastructure in the 1950s-era cinder block garages at the rear of the Bel Air Reckord Armory on Main Street.
The town plans to use the garages as temporary incubator spaces to encourage small business start-ups that could eventually more into permanent locations on Main or Bond streets or other downtown Bel Air locations, town Economic Development Director Trish Heidenreich said.
The grant is one of several statewide that were announced Wednesday by the Maryland Department of Community and Housing Development, which administers the Community Legacy Program to foster revitalization efforts in older core business districts of cities and towns.
The town plans to turn the garages into an "Armory Marketplace," which town officials have said could be used for artist studios and galleries and individual retail shops and other small businesses just starting to make their way in the world.
Heidenreich said the town at one point considered tearing down the garages, which are used for storage by the police department, and developing the space; however, the Maryland Historical Trust wouldn't allow it.
With the state grant, she said, the town will be able to install electric and plumbing and make structural improvements to the individual spaces it plans to lease.
A prior feasibility study in 2010 said the garage area could become a permanent home for the popular Bel Air Farmers Market. That use hasn't been ruled out, Heidenreich said, noting that the Saturday market's current venue in a surface parking lot by the District Court building may eventually be supplanted by expansion of the building.
Heidenreich said the incubator concept for the garages was discussed for a number of years, reviewed by several committees and went through conceptual and planning stages before the town sought the state grant.
"Ideally," she explained, "a person who has an idea for a new business but doesn't know if it will fly, would apply for space and try to grow the business. If they are successful, then we would see them move to a permanent location in Bel Air."
The town has been extremely successful in attracting state grant funds for renovating the historic armory building and its grounds.
The armory, in the heart of the Bel Air's downtown business district, has become a popular venue for community events, while also serving as the hub of the town's economic development program. The Maryland National Guard also maintains a presence at the armory.
In one of its previous projects involving the armory grounds, the town developed a small park along the south side of the building, named in honor of the late Frederick Y. Ward, an civil engineer who was an investor and leader in previous downtown revitalization efforts.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun