Ellicott City town manager

The businesses of Historic Ellicott City have reincorporated under one name and with the efforts of Ed Lilley (L) and Andy Hall, plan to hire a town manager to better represent all interests. The pair spend time on Main St. in Ellicott City on Friday morning, August 16, 2013. (Doug Kapustin, Baltimore Sun / August 15, 2013)

An excursion train to transport passengers between Ellicott City and Baltimore via existing railroad tracks is one of the ideas being considered by a revamped Main Street organization.

Uncovering the portion of the Tiber River that currently flows under a parking lot and transforming it into an attraction — instead of treating it like an asphalt-covered nuisance — is another.

These two concepts are being discussed by the Ellicott City Historic District Partnership, which replaced the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation in June. Among its initiatives, the partnership has joined with the Ellicott City Business Association and has opened its membership to residents.

But the centerpiece of the new organization will be the hiring of a town manager to flesh out these ideas and others. The partnership board is working to raise as much as $200,000 to fund the new position and establish an office.

"We're looking for the town to speak with fewer voices, and to strengthen those voices," said Andy Hall, a Main Street attorney who is serving as the partnership's interim president until annual elections are held in April. "That will give us a better chance of being heard."

That's a goal shared by county government, said Ed Lilley, longtime president of the restoration foundation and manager of the Howard County Welcome Center, housed in the former Main Street post office.

"The county desires a more unified town," he said. That shared outlook, along with new blood among Main Street's business owners and more area residents clamoring to be involved in town matters, was the catalyst for the new approach.

The position of town manager would bring to the historic town something it currently lacks: a full-time employee paid to work on behalf of the town's interests, instead of dozens of volunteers trying to do it in their spare time.

"You can't have 20 volunteers all working at a goal," Lilley said.

Not all Main Street businesses are ECBA members, Hall said. He estimates 50 to 60 of the approximately 100 eligible businesses and professional offices belong to the group, a number the partnership hopes will increase as town organizations coalesce and Ellicott City receives additional recognition.

The partnership is soliciting contributions from individuals and corporations as well as seeking county money, and hopes to launch a search to fill the town manager position at the beginning of 2014, Hall said. A job description and salary have not yet been finalized.

With a county commitment of $3 million in capital improvement funds in hand for the fiscal year that began July 1, the partnership isn't trying "to look a gift horse in the mouth," Hall said.

Lilley said improvements planned for the city include such infrastructure projects as repairing the retaining wall in the Lot E parking lot behind Ellicott Mills Brewing Co. and, simultaneously, creating a walkway into town from the courthouse; repairing the flood- and earthquake-damaged retaining wall at St. Paul Roman Catholic Church; and establishing more gardens to reduce stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces.

But he believes the county should also play an integral role in the new partnership, too.

"It's not a hard-and-fast rule, but it's generally expected that local government will commit one-third of the funding," he said. Insurance, advertising, office space and office equipment are some of the expenses that must be covered.

Steve Lafferty, special projects director for the county Department of Planning and Zoning, said the idea to hire a town manager "has been kicking around for at least a couple of years."

"We felt we needed to do this with [the now-defunct Ellicott City Restoration Foundation] and the business association operating on parallel tracks," said Lafferty, who has also been devoting time to U.S. 1 revitalization efforts in southeastern Howard County.

"While those individuals have all been doing a lot of good stuff for the town, we needed a way to settle on a course of action" and prevent volunteer burnout, he said. "Anytime an organization can have a full-time person focusing on the betterment of the community there will be advantages."

Emphasis will be placed on historic preservation, aesthetics, promotions, economic vitality, and recruiting and retaining volunteers, Lafferty said.

The new hire will also spend time talking with people to help them reach a consensus on priorities "so they're comfortable with the way funds are spent."