City selected to receive aid on downtown; State program offers expertise for effort to revive 'Main Street'; No cash grant allotted; Restoring buildings, landscaping, signs are possible projects


A state program designed to pump new life and business into aging main streets in Maryland towns will announce today that it has chosen Taneytown for a three-year effort to rehabilitate storefronts, lure new businesses and attract people to shop and live in the town center.

"Taneytown came to our workshops for three years in a row before applying," said Cindy Stone, who coordinates Main Street Maryland for the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

"A lot of other towns think if they just do one thing -- if they make the street look good, or if they have 10 parades every year -- then people will shop there. But it has to be comprehensive, and Taneytown got that," she said.

As a Main Street Maryland community, Taneytown will not get a cash grant. But it will get advice and technical assistance from experts around the country who participate in the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In 1998, Cumberland, Easton, Oakland and the Charles Village neighborhood in Baltimore were chosen. In 1999, Westminster and Denton joined the program.

In each case, the program is tailored to the community's specific needs, Stone said. Oakland's downtown, for example, will be competing with a new Wal-Mart, she said. So with the help of Main Street Maryland, the town's small businesses brought in a retail consultant who has provided workshops on how to compete with a superstore.

Even before Taneytown won the designation, its Downtown Revitalization Planning Group had begun surveying residents about what they think of the downtown.

"They think it's average," said Nancy McCormick, the city's director of economic development. "We want it to be better than average."

With some older, neglected buildings that have been carved into low-income apartments, Taneytown has been struggling to create more commercial space downtown. But the city has a lot of potential, Stone said.

It boasts one of the mid-Atlantic region's most luxurious inns, the Antrim 1844 restaurant and bed-and-breakfast.

McCormick said she hopes to bring in stores and restaurants that will complement Antrim and lure its guests for a stroll along the main streets: East Baltimore and West Baltimore, York and Frederick streets.

These four streets meet at the center of town, which residents call "the square."

The square once boasted a busy hotel in a building that has been turned into apartments, although a couple who bought it last year are trying to convert the ground floor into a cafe.

McCormick said the survey, copies of which are available at the Taneytown branch of the Carroll County public library, will help the revitalization group determine what kinds of businesses and diversions to encourage in the downtown. The survey is continuing.

Cultural activities

In the 200 responses received, people have asked for arts and cultural activities, especially music, McCormick said.

The city owns an old pharmacy on East Baltimore Street, a few doors east of the square. The building is vacant, and the city hopes to turn it into a tourism center and museum.

Stone said the first thing Main Street Maryland communities do is assess what the downtown looks like and how it can look better. Improvements could include restoring historic buildings, landscaping, and replacing signs.

"We ask, does it look good?" Stone said.

If not, private property owners can get free help from design consultants.

The city has to have a manager for the revitalization plan, she said, and it will be McCormick.

"Just like shopping centers and malls need a manager, a downtown needs a manager to be successful," Stone said.

Advice on promotion

Experts also offer advice on promoting the town to lure tourists and persuade residents to do their business close to home, Stone said. Experts analyze what businesses are likely to succeed in the downtown and how to keep existing businesses healthy.

State Secretary of Housing and Community Development Raymond A. Skinner is expected to announce Taneytown's selection today at the Maryland Preservation and Revitalization Conference in Frederick. Taneytown was the only community to be selected this year.

"Four other communities applied, but felt when the due date arrived that they weren't ready to do this," Stone said.

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