Cumberland Times-News

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December 29, 2013

Mayor wants long-term solution for Canal Place

Board running tourism hub placed in ‘impossible situation,’ Grim says

CUMBERLAND — With Canal Place struggling financially and its future unclear, Cumberland Mayor Brian Grim says that the board running the tourism hub has been placed in an “impossible situation.”

“The state created Canal Place like a state agency and then chose not to fund them,” said Grim.

Managed by the Canal Place Preservation & Development Authority, the tourism hub has been bleeding red ink in recent times. Canal Place officials project a fiscal shortfall of $27,000 in 2014 and a loss of around $125,000 in 2015.

Grim said that many of the options being circulated now are merely “Band-Aid solutions.”

A move to bring a motion before the Cumberland City Council is underway that would call for $80,000 to be funded to assist Canal Place.

“I’d rather see the funds go to pave our roads and pay our police and firefighters,” said Grim.

He said the $80,000 would come from the city’s general fund.

“Canal Place is a state agency. Why should local government be expected to pick up the tab?” Grim said.

Grim sees a day when Canal Place, the city and downtown are all under one umbrella. He said he is communicating through the District 1 legislative delegation on the future of the matter.

While the mayor looks at long-term solutions, Canal Place tenants, along with the authority officials are concerned about potential problems in the near future.

“Let’s not forget what the state has done for us,” said Dee Dee Ritchie, executive director of the authority.

Ritchie said that the 11-acre tract that now holds Canal Place and the Fairfield Inn would still be the site of a bunch of blighted properties if not for the state. Maryland has invested more than $22 million in Canal Place since it began acquiring the lots in the 1990s.

“The state continues to spend on it. We have just received a $68,000 grant to fix the roof,” said Ritchie.

Ritchie said the gutters, in particular, are in bad shape on the roof of the Western Maryland Railway Station.

Canal Place is the home to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, Crabby Pig restaurant, European Desserts and More, Cumberland Trail Connection, Charis Winery, Kramer’s Deli, The Sweet Spot, multiple offices and more.

“We should be grateful that the state jumped in when they did. The Fairfield Inn would not exist if it wasn’t for the state,” said Ritchie.

Ritchie sees it as a joint venture that has gone off the rails.

“It began as a partnership with the National Park Service, the city and the state. It was all right when the state funded it. The state wants some help now,” said Ritchie.

Canal Place officials were disappointed when both the city and Allegany County discontinued giving any hotel/motel tax revenue dollars to the authority despite the Fairfield Inn sitting on Canal Place property.

Ritchie also said the state, through the Maryland Heritage Area Authority, gives Canal Place $100,000 annually for operations, with tourism getting $50,000.

“The city also receives funding through the state,” said Ritchie.

Canal Place received annual line item funding from the state before the economic downturn took hold.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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