Downtowns find own ways to stay afloat
Funding, revitalization projects among steps taken
Annapolis is holding an "open audition for ideas" for ways to revive one of its landmark historic structures, says city spokesman Phillip P. McGowan.
Working to improve historic structures is one step taken by Annapolis and other municipalities across the state as they emerge from the Great Recession. Annapolis officials have received multiple proposals regarding its 5,000-square-foot Market House building, McGowan said. The building has been a part of the city's waterfront since 1788.
Annapolis also has received $400,000 in funding for downtown improvements, said Stephen Semaris, president of the Downtown Annapolis Partnership.
"No one wants to see it disappear," Semaris said of the downtown. "It's vital to residents and we're fortunate for the historical and maritime aspects people are drawn to it."
The state offers several grants and loan programs that can benefit downtown areas, including a Community Legacy grant and Neighborhood BusinessWorks loan program, according to Carol Gilbert, assistant secretary for the division of neighborhood revitalization with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
The Community Legacy grant provides local governments and community development organizations with funding for projects entailing activities such as attracting and retaining businesses, encouraging homeownership and commercial revitalization, according to state information.
The Neighborhood BusinessWorks program provides gap financing to new or expanding small businesses and nonprofits in "sustainable communities" throughout the state, according to the housing department's website.
The amount of the grant and loan programs vary from $75,000 to up to $300,000, according to Gilbert. She added that the state is making $4.25 million in Community Legacy grants available to targeted revitalization communities in the state, which includes communities in the state's "Main Street Maryland" program.
Neighborhood BusinessWorks loans being made available to the same areas total $3.1 million, she said, adding that about 25 percent of those loans have gone directly to historic districts in the state.
A downtown area has many location-related advantages, including its access to public transportation and friendliness toward pedestrians, said David Morley, a research associate with the nonprofit National Planning Association.
"A downtown is a front porch' to a community," Morley said. "It's in a little better position to weather [economic] storms than other areas."
Gilbert believes that downtown areas are the "last place for mom-and-pop stores."
"It's not just your dream but the dream of the community to have a healthy business," she said.