In her first week as new executive director of the Ellicott City Partnership, Alicia Jones-McLeod observed a Main Street business owner go out of her way to assist another merchant whose husband had died after a fall.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that such acts of kindness were the rule in town, not the exception.
Jones-McLeod, chosen from 65 applicants to lead the nonprofit after Maureen Sweeney Smith resigned in November, marvels at how giving the Main Street business community is.
“The number one thing I’ve noticed is how selfless people are here,” said Jones-McLeod, a 44-year-old Burtonsville resident whose first day was Feb. 25. “This is a family. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed.”
The founder and former executive director of the Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce takes over at a crucial time for Ellicott City.
After the partnership’s board of directors voted unanimously in mid-September to support then-County Executive Allan Kittleman’s $50 million flood mitigation plan for historic Ellicott City — which was ravaged by flash flooding in 2016 and 2018 — voters elected Calvin Ball to take his place in November.
That change in leadership put on hold Kittleman’s proposal to raze 10 buildings on Main Street, among other recommendations, while the new administration studies alternatives to demolition.
Four months later, as the partnership watches and waits, members continue to advocate for action.
Matthew Fleming, president of the partnership’s board of directors, said the organization’s stance on making Ellicott City flood mitigation an immediate priority in the county remains unchanged.
“What’s most important is that the county approach the situation with a sense of urgency to ensure the safety and sustainability of ECP’s constituents,” Fleming said.
With that goal in mind, the partnership expects to complete an update to its June 2017 strategic plan within two to three months, he said.
While flood mitigation is the top concern for the nonprofit, managing the town’s affairs is integral to ensuring Ellicott City continues to thrive as an economic and tourism hub, Fleming said.
“Alicia’s expertise and positive energy are a very welcome addition to the ECP family,” he said about the New Jersey native, who moved to Maryland 10 years ago with her husband, Terence McLeod, and their three children.
While 70 businesses have reopened along the historic thoroughfare, 35 remain closed, Jones-McLeod said.
The Ellicott City Partnership transferred $75,000 in additional flood relief funds for commercial property owners to the Community Foundation of Howard County two months ago, according to a statement on the organization’s website.
That brings the total raised by the partnership for direct flood relief since the May 2018 flash flood to more than $650,000, the statement reads.
“People are hurting here. Some are showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Jones-McLeod said.
But more needs to be done, she said.
“The sirens are great,” she said of Ball’s Feb. 8 announcement of a system to alert people in town to rising flood waters. “But that’s a Band-Aid on a broken arm; it doesn’t fix anything.”
The partnership is considering holding a town hall meeting to advance a solution-oriented discussion to flooding issues, and an exploratory committee is looking into creating a community development corporation for Ellicott City, she said.
But there’s still a town to manage in the meantime.
“Let’s say there are no floods in Ellicott City for 10 years. The town would still need attention from a marketing standpoint,” Jones-McLeod said.
“People want to do more than flood mitigation,” she said. “They want to be forward-facing and take steps to ensure the sustainability of Old Ellicott City.”
For her part, Jones-McLeod said she is “all about figuring out the community’s needs, working with all stakeholders and acting as a relevant resource for business owners.”
Jones-McLeod said she’ll draw upon her experience in founding the Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce in 2016 to develop a tactical plan for Ellicott City.
The Ellicott City Partnership “wants to be a megaphone for Main Street businesses, which need support and leadership,” she said.
She has already been hitting the pavement to introduce herself to merchants and said she will continue those personal visits until she’s met everyone face-to-face.
“I want business owners to know, ‘I’m here with you and I take you seriously,’ ” she said.
Fortunately, not all partnership business is weighty.
With spring around the corner, two partnership-sponsored events have been announced — one new and one a long-time tradition.
The inaugural Ellicott Silly Comedy Fest is planned for March 29 and 30, in conjunction with the Howard County Historical Society, and Springfest 2019, a free music and crafts festival, is slated for April 27. Event details are available at visitoldellicottcity.com
Still, a sense of urgency about flood mitigation persists.
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“The safety of the people who live and work on Main Street has to be the top priority in everything we do,” Jones-McLeod said.