Cumberland Times-News

January 4, 2014

Kelly wants Canal Place authority terminated

Greg Larry
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Del. Kevin Kelly has publicized his position on the future of Canal Place, which includes disbanding the Canal Place Preservation & Development Authority in favor of continuing the tourism hub’s operation under the shared responsibility of the city and the county.

“We need to have the delegation introduce legislation to terminate the authority,” said Kelly.

Kelly expressed his sentiments during a recent luncheon of the Maryland Retired School Personnel Association at the Ali Ghan Shrine Club.

“We should let the city and county come in and take it over. Then it would be under the control of elected officials who are directly accountable to the taxpayers,” said Kelly.

Canal Place has fallen on difficult financial times, while still trying to gain political support for its latest endeavors such as developing the Footer Dye Works building and expanding the Canal Place Heritage Area.

Kelly, who first held the District 1-B seat from 1987 to 1995 before returning to the seat in 1999, has felt he has seen enough.

“At one point they wanted the delegation to get $2 million of funding for the Footer building,” said Kelly.

Kelly said that the structure is merely a remnant of the once historic complex, and it needs to come down.

As for the expansion of the heritage area into Georges Creek, Westernport and other areas in the county: “When you are in a financial hole, stop digging,” said Kelly.

Kelly feels that expanding the area simply to get more grant dollars is something that should be obtainable by directly working with the county and state.

“It should at least be explored,” said Kelly.

“I want whatever is best for Canal Place. I’ve tried to do everything I can do,” said Dee Dee Ritchie, CPPDA executive director.

Ritchie said her hands are tied until she sees the governor’s new budget.

The Maryland General Assembly convenes on Wednesday.

Attempts to reach Sen. George Edwards were unsuccessful.

Mayor Brian Grim was asked about Kelly’s proposed plan.

“We need to do something different with the situation (at Canal Place),” said Grim. “They are in an impossible financial situation.”

Canal Place is expected to have a budget deficit of $27,000 this year and projected losses of around $125,000 in fiscal 2015.

Grim sees the Footer building as a make-or-break point.

“I think this is the last opportunity,” said Grim.

A request for proposals is expected to be sent out later this month to prospective developers for the historic structure. The Footer project now has both federal and state tax credits in place and it includes the ownership of the parking lot beside it known as parcel B. An option had existed on parcel B, but that expired in August, returning control of the lot back with the Footer property.

“We’ve been told we can’t knock that building down. I have spoken to the authorities and it is possible,” said Kelly.

Allegany County Commission President Mike McKay, who sits on the Canal Place board, also feels Canal Place is at a crossroads.

“The business plan for Canal Place is not working. I’m open to discussing alternate plans,” said McKay.

Ultimately the state will have to be on board for any changes in the management of Canal Place. The state, which obtained the property in the 1990s, has spent around $22 million on Canal Place to date.

“I think the state would be receptive to new ideas,” said Kelly.

Canal Place has three paid full-time employees and an annual maintenance agreement with a contractor. The Canal Place board has six seats appointed by the governor and three ex-officio, nonvoting seats held by a city council member, and one representative each from the National Park Service and the Maryland Historical Trust.

Kelly has also been disappointed with the Canal Place board’s inability to get the National Park Service to take better care of the canal basin. He points to the complaints of algae, bottles and other debris to be found in the basin waters.

“Now they are talking about filling it in,” said Kelly.

Grim sees Canal Place, the resignation of downtown manager Ed Mullaney and other differences downtown as a sign of change.

“It’s a big transitional period in the downtown in general,” said Grim.

Ritchie finds the direction disappointing. She points out that Grim and McKay sit on the Canal Place board.

“None of this has been discussed at any of the board meetings. It’s disheartening that it has come this far along,” said Ritchie.

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