Cumberland Times-News

October 15, 2013

Canal Place taking measures to address projected shortfall

Greg Larry
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — With a projected financial shortfall of $125,000 by 2015, the Canal Place Preservation & Development Authority gave an update on the measures it is taking to obtain future funding sources.

The updates were given Tuesday during the authority’s regular monthly meeting.

During an Oct. 3 meeting, several suggestions were made to Canal Place by members of the District 1 legislative delegation to improve the tourism center’s financial picture.

“It was a good opportunity to have a good exchange with the delegation,” said Andy Vick, chair of the authority.

Sen. George Edwards had suggested that Canal Place research the availability of $1.5 million in capital funds, which Edwards said may still exist in the state budget, to assist projects similar to Canal Place.

“I had checked on this last year. I don’t believe it was ever allocated to anyone,” said authority executive director Dee Dee Ritchie.

Ritchie said they will make an inquiry into the availability of the funds.

The delegation also urged Canal Place officials to send a letter to the governor asking to have a line item for funding for Canal Place to be put back in the state’s general budget.

“We have had preliminary discussions with senior members of the governor’s staff,” said Vick.

Vick said that those state officials urged Canal Place to work through the state Department of Budget and Management. A meeting has been scheduled, according to Vick, between Canal Place officials and T. Eloise Foster, secretary of the DBM, on Nov. 6.

“We will be keeping the delegation in the loop on this,” said Vick.

The delegation also suggested Canal Place be more persistant with the National Park Service to address algae and other stagnant water issues at the canal basin.

An air pump or fountain had been suggested as a possible cure for the basin waters.

Canal Place said it will write a letter to the park service and send a copy to the delegation and to Maryland’s U.S. senators.

Ritchie said they would also like to pursue help from the park service on creating a boat launch on the Potomac River since plans for rewatering the canal and other related attractions remain permanently suspended.

As part of a recent audit of the tourism center by Maryland’s Office of Legislative Audits, Canal Place has been asked to submit verification of the monies received from the hotel/motel tax collected by the Fairfield Inn during fiscal 2013.

The OLA audit asked Canal Place to obtain in writing the amounts collected from the Fairfield Inn’s hotel/motel tax by the city of Cumberland, the Fairfield Inn and Allegany County.

Ritchie said the city and the Fairfield Inn have given the information to Canal Place.

However, the county has asked to first see a report from Canal Place showing how county hotel/motel tax dollars were spent in previous years.

The county and city have given Canal Place as much as $100,000 of hotel/motel tax revenues in some years. Canal Place began receiving hotel/motel tax dollars when the Fairfield Inn opened on Canal Place property in 2009.

 However, by 2015, the city and county have both decided to discontinue giving Canal Place any hotel/motel tax dollars. Both the city and county have stated that Canal Place needs to develop alternative revenue sources.

Canal Place officials feel that the local governments’ decisions to no longer contribute funds is a main source of the tourism hub’s growing financial problems.

Doug Reed, of the Maryland Heritage Area Authority, gave an update on the Footer Dye Works building.

Reed has been overseeing the stabilization of the building so it can be ready for marketing to a commercial developer.

A recent study of the structural integrity of the building, in particular the roof, was completed by the Philadelphia-based engineering firm of Keast and Hood.

Reed said he was pleased at what the study said and read a line from a conclusion drawn by the engineers.

“After a thorough review of the building and its structure, we feel it is in salvageable condition for future comprehensive renovation,” Reed quoted.

“This is good news. It was what I already thought, but it is good to have it made official,” said Reed.

Reed said the report concluded that 70 percent of the roof is in great condition and 30 percent needs review.

Reed also said that tax credits available from a national historic designation as well as the inclusion of the adjacent parking lot, known as parcel B, in the package, will make the project attractive to developers.

A request for proposals from interested developers for the Footer Dye Works building is expected to go out in early January.

“It’s wonderful to have an official study complete. It makes the project more realistic and likely,” said Vick.

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