Cumberland Times-News

January 11, 2014

There’s hope

Let elected officials take responsibility for Canal Place


Cumberland Times-News

— If state officials, the Allegany County Commissioners and Cumberland Mayor and Council can hammer out an agreement acceptable to all, Canal Place has a good chance of seeing a brighter future.

For the last few years, it has become evident that the tourism and retail complex has been at a crossroad. The Canal Place Authority has struggled to keep retail spaces filled and has seen funding from the county and city, via motel/hotel revenue sharing, dwindle away. Plans for a rewatered C&O Canal were scuttled long ago. Repeated efforts to find a developer for the former Footer Dye Works building have met with failure. A restaurant proposed near the Fairfield Inn also never materialized.

With that backdrop, Del. Kevin Kelly is urging his fellow District 1 delegation members and the county commissioners to support a plan to allow the city of Cumberland and the county to jointly manage operation of Canal Place.

“I believe we should abolish the authority and let Canal Place be managed by elected officials who are directly accountable to the taxpayers,” said Kelly.

While all parties have yet to have a face-to-face meeting to discuss the proposal, there have been preliminary comments indicating that the proposal has legs. Commissioners Michael McKay and William Valentine want to pursue the idea of a city-county partnership. Mayor Brian Grim said he is open to the idea of working with the county and will seek support from the city council. Sen. George Edwards and Del. Wendell Beitzel said they want to be sure a plan is fully developed and supported by the state before considering the disbanding of the Canal Place Authority.

The state has a big investment in Canal Place, having put more than $22 million into the tourism center since its inception. Any plan to disband the Canal Place Authority will need the state’s blessing  — and clarity about how the locals will manage the 11-acre tract and real property that make up Canal Place.

Change is in the wind. Unless something unforseen occurs, Canal Place will likely be turned over to local elected officials in the near future. We believe that would be a positive change.