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State grants awarded for revitalization projects in Harford, Port Deposit

Aberdeen Transit Oriented Development, Havre de Grace Opera House among projects supported by state grants

Communities in Harford and western Cecil counties have received a combined $660,000 in state grants to improve the facades of municipal downtown properties, acquire and demolish unused properties as part of larger revitalization projects and repurpose historic buildings for public use.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday the distribution of more than $11 million in Community Legacy, Strategic Demolition Fund and Baltimore Regional Neighborhoods Initiative grants throughout the state.

The Community Legacy grants awarded in Harford County include $50,000 to the Bel Air Downtown Alliance for building facade improvements, $60,000 to Harford County for its Edgewood Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, $200,000 to the City of Havre de Grace for the second and final phase of the renovation of the Havre de Grace Opera House and $50,000 to the City of Aberdeen for building facade improvements in the city's Transit Oriented Development zone, according to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

Aberdeen received an additional $100,000 Strategic Demolition grant to acquire a "blighted and vacant" property in the Transit Oriented Development zone, according to the news release.

"I am hoping that it has a positive economic development impact," Phyllis Grover, Aberdeen's director of planning and community development, said of the grant funding.

Grover said the Community Legacy funds would be offered to owners of structures along Route 40.

"We're hoping to use it to incentivize existing businesses so they can improve their properties, possibly expand," she said.

The Strategic Demolition grant will fund the acquisition and demolition of a property near AMTRAK - MARC railroad station at Route 40 and East Bel Air Avenue, as city officials have been working to revitalize areas downtown, along Route 40 and around the station that serves both commuters and intercity passengers.

Grover declined to name the property in question, noting the city has not started negotiations to acquire it, but she said it is adjacent to five parcels the city has already obtained. Three of those parcels are near City Hall on North Parke Street, and two more are along Route 40.

"The goal is to market them all together [and] get mixed-use development that supports the Transit Oriented Development," Grover said.

Havre de Grace officials applied for $300,000 in Community Legacy funds to support the opera house project, which involves revitalizing the historic Union Avenue building for theatrical performances and community events.

Adrean Troy, the city's economic development director, said officials did not expect to receive the full amount for which they applied.

"We know that it's a very competitive process, and we often expect to see a smaller amount," she said of applying for Community Legacy funds.

The $200,000 grant will support the second phase of construction, as well as city and county funds and private funds raised through the Havre de Grace Opera House Foundation, Troy said.

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Cecil County grants

In Cecil County, the Town of Port Deposit received $200,000 in Community Legacy funds – $50,000 for revitalizing downtown buildings damaged in back-to-back floods during Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, plus $150,000 for the ongoing restoration of the historic Jacob Tome Gas House in Marina Park.

"We are really hoping to be able to reach out to those homeowners and give them some hope and some help," Town Administrator Vicky Rinkerman said of people who suffered flood damage.

The Gas House will be converted into a state visitors center and a research and education facility to support Towson University's research on the endangered Northern map turtle, according to Rinkerman.

"We're hoping to be able to market eco-tourism with our partnership with Towson University," she said.

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