Annapolis Eyes Funds for Main Street

By Raymond McCaffrey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Annapolis wants to enroll in the state's Main Street Maryland program, a move that would make the city eligible for funding to help revitalize its historic downtown business district.

Under a resolution introduced Monday, the city would apply for Main Street Maryland designation from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. The resolution acknowledges "a significant need for the reinvestment and revitalization of the community of Annapolis." The designation would allow the city's Main Street area to become eligible for a half-dozen programs, according to Annapolis officials.

"It's going to be a challenge," said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D), who sponsored the resolution.

Officials are particularly concerned about businesses on Main Street and neighboring streets competing with those at Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole, a $400 million commercial, office and residential development on the outskirts of the city. The first phase of that development is scheduled to open this fall and will include a Target store. Westfield Annapolis, which opened in 1980, also recently completed a major renovation.

In the past 30 years, many downtown businesses have been hurt by a shortage of parking as they have struggled to keep pace with rapidly expanding shopping malls outside the city. More recently, historic downtown buildings housing businesses have been struck by devastating fires.

Participation in the Main Street program also would allow the city to consult with the state in developing a comprehensive strategy for the business district and determining what mix of businesses would be best. That essentially would treat the area, including Main Street and Maryland Avenue, much like a shopping mall, Alderman Ross H. Arnett III (D-Ward 8) said.

The plan is being backed by the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, said Bob Burdon, the chamber's president.

"We think that is probably the foundation for the city," Burdon said.

The program will help Annapolis establish its niche and differentiate the downtown business district from the Westfield mall and Annapolis Towne Centre, Burdon said.

The city's efforts to transform its historic Market House at City Dock have faltered, with vendors recently departing even as the city is fighting a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by the company that manages the site.

By contrast, West Street, on the outskirts of the historic district, has experienced an economic boom. The city has finished a street improvement project, and new businesses have moved into the neighborhood. Park Place, a major condo and retail development, opened this year, with a new Westin hotel at the center. The City Council also has approved an arts district in the corridor.

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