Workmen began turning an Ellicott City eyesore into a haven for the footsore last week with the start of construction of a "pocket park" connecting lower Main Street to Tiber Alley.

The $112,000 project involves building a brick-paved footbridge across the Tiber branch ofthe Patapsco River and setting up five park benches and a picnic table among shrubs on slices of land on either side of the creek.

"We're pretty thrilled about it, because first of all, it's getting rid of an eyesore," said Kathy Chambers, a board member of the Ellicott City Business Association. Until last summer, the site was blocked off with two graffiti-sprayed cinder-block walls that kept pedestrians from wandering into the vacant lot and falling into the stream.

"It will also provide another location for special events," she added, as well as a place for people to simply "hang out."

The project is a part of the county's $983,000 Ellicott City Streetscape Improvements capital project, which has already repaved sidewalks in front of public buildings such as the the fire house and post office. About $233,000 of that money remains to be used to repave sidewalks in front of private buildings, the cost of which will be shared by property owners, said Ronald Lepson, county assistant director of public works.

The park, scheduled for completion April 13, is being built on the site of a billiard hall, laundromat and doctors' office destroyed by fire in 1965, said local historian Joetta Cramm. In 1941, another fire took out Roy's Cafe and the Earl Theater, perhaps one of the first in town to feature "talking pictures," she said.

Like many of the buildings along Main Street, the burned-out buildings were built straddling the Tiber, a difficult practice under modern building codes, Lepson said.

The park will use the same motif that other public areas use along Main Street, including cast-iron railings along the bridge and black iron posts on either end to keep cars from entering the park, said project manager Laura Csandy of the county Department of Public Works.

Motorists might have a mind to try, according to one nearby merchant, Ed Mick.

"We need a parking lot . . . a lotmore than we do a park," said Mick, who owns the Mine Shaft, a custom jewelry house on Main Street, 100 feet from the project.

But Steve Hargest, owner of Sidestreets Restaurant on Tiber Alley, couldn't be more pleased.

"It's going to be a nice little addition to the town," he said, as well as an advantage for his business, because it will make way for pedestrian traffic from Main Street straight to his front door.

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