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Busy Bel Air Downtown Alliance seeks grants for information kiosk, website upgrades

Town officials laud strong partnership bonds with nonprofit that promotes downtown business area

It's a busy time for the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, which is applying for three more state grants, one to install a wayfinding kiosk downtown and another for enhancing its website and marketing activities.

Three grant proposals for the nonprofit were endorsed by the Bel Air town commissioners at their last town meeting on Oct. 19. The grants will be applied for through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

The alliance is seeking a $15,000 technical assistance grant to expand the marketing capabilities on its website and to make other enhancements, according to town Economic Development Director Trish Heidenreich, who serves as a liaison to the alliance.

"It's amazing the kind of information that is on this website," Town Commissioner Susan Burdette said. "It's extremely valuable information."

Burdette says the website http://belairmaryland.org is particularly valuable to visitors and newcomers to the town, and Commissioner Edward Hopkins agreed the website "tells us about the community."

The alliance is seeking a $15,000 grant toward installation of a custom wayfinding, or information, kiosk, a program that Heidenreich said is in development.

During the town commissioner's retreat in the spring, the need for wayfinding assistance for visitors was discussed at some length. Planning Director Kevin Small said the town government is working with the alliance to determine where the kiosk would best be installed and what kind of digital capabilities it can have.

He noted that having digital information that is updated frequently is desirable but also "high maintenance" in terms of the updating to keep everything current.

"This is our first step in our wayfinding plan," Small said of the grant application and plan for the kiosk.

The third grant being sought is $24,000 to be used for operational assistance and for the alliance to obtain nonprofit accreditation, which Heidenreich said "is really important for a nonprofit to establish credibility in the long run."

Commissioner Patrick Richards praised the alliance and its board president, Craig Ward, saying the organization "has gathered a lot of momentum" under Ward's leadership. He also lauded the partnership the alliance has forged with the town government.

Ward, who was at the meeting when the grant application resolutions were approved by the Town Board, said the alliance received a $58,000 tourism grant from Harford County, funding from revenue generated by the new 6 percent lodging tax.

He said the alliance in a joint effort with the town is planning a comprehensive marketing study and is in the process of finalizing a contract for the study.

He also said the alliance has a $50,000 facade improvement grant for downtown businesses to tap into to improve their building exteriors and signage. Participants will match the funds the alliance provides.

"I'm very happy with where we are heading," said Ward, who also emphasized the strong relationship the alliance has built with the town.

"I couldn't agree more; it's a fantastic partnership," Mayor Robert Reier replied. "It's an extremely important partnership with a number of volunteers involved."

Ward thanked Reier, who he said was an early supporter of the alliance when it was formed 15 years ago, and Hopkins for their service to the town. Both are leaving the board when their terms expire next month.

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