Would you know a million dollars if you saw it? You would if you saw a waterfront mansion, a dozen Mercedes, a yacht. But would you know a million dollars had just been spent fixing up Pikesville if you passed through that northwest Baltimore County town?
Tomorrow Baltimore County will unveil its new Pikesville streetscape project. A year in the making, the revitalization includes new salmon-colored sidewalks, concrete planters, benches and bus waiting areas.
On one hand, it seems overly harsh to criticize county officials for their attempt to improve one of the county's historic, inner Beltway commercial districts. There don't seem to be many Pikesville merchants unhappy about the effort; Fields' Pharmacy owner Jeffrey Levin is the most outspoken. But maybe they shouldn't protest too much. Many other commercial districts would have gladly taken the county's assistance if Pikesville didn't want it.
But the critics have a worthwhile point: The county's approach to Pikesville's revitalization -- if not its entire economic development effort -- often seems as schizophrenic as the new streetscape itself. Near the new Victorian-style street lamps, for instance, sits a new futuristic-style fountain -- sort of a huge metal fishtail -- that the county commissioned from Baltimore artist Rodney Carroll. What do Victorian and modern design have to do with one another?
This is not to say we're down on Pikesville. It has energetic merchants. Even in a horrific environment for small business, the town center doesn't seem in bad straits. And at times, the place seems hopping: We were often stunned last summer to find huge dinner crowds outside Jonathan Soudry's Poulet restaurant well past 8 p.m. on weeknights. Still, because of its proximity to an affluent market, Pikesville has much untapped potential. Lack of convenient off-street parking is one problem still demanding a solution.
If county officials didn't have a powerful sense of what they wanted to achieve in Pikesville, it's little wonder. They have been all over the map on economic development in the past few years. One day they tout tourism as the path to revival. Another day the focus is on recruiting new heavy industry to Sparrows Point. Currently, it's on retaining existing business.
One doesn't get the feeling county leaders understand or truly believe in their jurisdiction's own strengths. How are they ever going to sell them to someone else?