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Bel Air leaders celebrate Maryland Historic Trust recognition of Armory Marketplace business incubator

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The Armory Marketplace business incubator, which is in five refurbished garages behind the Bel Air Armory downtown, has netted two significant awards from statewide organizations in recent months, the most recent being a recognition from the Maryland Historical Trust.

The Project Excellence: Community Impact award was presented to town officials Jan. 31, during the Historical Trust’s annual Preservation Awards event in Annapolis. Town leaders honored, on Tuesday, the many people who worked over nearly a decade to bring the vision of a business incubator to fruition.

“This project represents a perfect example of collaboration between the Maryland Historical Trust, who inspired us to preserve and maintain the historical integrity of the Armory site, and the Department of Housing and Community Development, Community Legacy Program, who provided us with the financial support and guidance to see this project through design and construction,” Mayor Susan Burdette said.

The celebration happened more than three months after the town received the Impact Award fro 2018 from the Community Development Network of Maryland in late October, also for the Armory Marketplace.

Burdette and Trish Heidenreich, the town’s director of economic development, recognized Tuesday officials from the DHCD and historical trust, representatives of Bel Air design firm Frederick Ward Associates, Edgewood construction firm Imark Builders, and town staff, department heads and commissioners, past and present.

Representatives of Imark, including company president Mark Gorrera and construction manager Richard Foard, and Frederick Ward Associates — including company president Torrence Pierce — were also on hand and accepted awards for their firms’ roles.

“We needed a team — a design team and a construction team — that we knew that we could really, really rely on to be able to get the job done on time on budget, and really be able to take that vision and work with us,” Heidenreich said.

Carol Deibel, the town’s former planning director, was present, along with former town commissioners and mayors Edward Hopkins and Robert Preston. The audience applauded strongly when each person stood to be recognized.

Steve Allan, a planner with the Historical Trust who coordinated the details of presenting the award to the town, was present for the ceremony, which including the showing of a video produced by the Trust about Armory Marketplace.

Heidenreich noted two key people not in attendance: DHCD official John Papagni, who nominated the town for the award, and Ashlee Green, a regional program manager with the department’s Community Legacy Program who has worked with the town.

The Armory, originally developed as a home base for Company D of the Maryland National Guard’s First Regiment, dates to 1915. The facility, which the town acquired from the state in 2004, has served as a hub for community activities and events downtown for generations.

Burdette described how the concept of revitalizing the Armory’s rear garages, which date to the 1950s, went from the discussion stages to build out and occupation, with the collaboration of town officials, business and community leaders and state officials. She said the “collaboration of state agencies” with the town came together in 2009 “to make this project take shape and give the Town of Bel Air the support it needed to make this dream a reality.”

The Armory Marketplace was dedicated in September 2018, after a four-year, multi-phase construction process. It hosts four commercial tenants in the incubator spaces as well as a permanent anchor tenant, the Harford Artists’ Association.

Tenants in the four incubator spaces can each lease the space for three years maximum, giving them enough time to establish their businesses and build a financial background which will help when meeting with commercial lenders, according to Heidenreich.

The Harford Artists Association Gallery, the fifth space, is the anchor tenant and serves as a visitors center for the town on weekends. Heidenreich said the town has a memorandum of understanding with the association, renewed annually, and the tenant pays about 25 percent of their sales for upkeep of the space, in addition to their utility costs.

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