Cumberland Times-News

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May 21, 2013

City hopes economic strategies clear way for job creation, growth

Frederick Street building continues to be marketed as post-secondary education center

CUMBERLAND — Shawn Hershberger, economic development coordinator for the city, gave an update of the strategies being pursued for economic growth, including developing an educational center at the former Human Resources Development Commission location.

“We want to do targeted improvement efforts toward regions and specific businesses that we see could benefit from locating in the area,” said Hershberger at Tuesday meeting of the mayor and city council.

The city is hoping its plans will jump-start the economical climate in the area to clear the way for job creation and population growth.

“There are significant levels of prospect activity and encouraging signs of positive potential. Right now, it is premature to go indepth,” said Hershberger.

Owned by the city, the historic building at 19 Frederick St., which was the former home of city hall before becoming the Human Resources Development Commission, has received $100,000 in community legacy grants for structural improvements.

Hershberger said that five institutions have expressed continued or new interest in the building that city officials hope can become a university center model available for post-secondary course offerings or educational programs.

“We want Cumberland to be a hub for post-secondary education,” said David Kauffman, city councilman.

The hopes are that a college or other organization with similar needs will utilize the space for introductory trail programs or other course work.

“No singular institution will have the entire responsibility of investment. It could be used as an (educational) incubator of sorts,” said Kauffman.

Kauffman said it is a population growth strategy. He sees it as a complement to Frostburg State University and Allegany College of Maryland and a way to offer a broader range of educational choices.

“We hope FSU and ACM can be part of this. We need to have a richer snapshot,” said Kauffman.

Any school that would want to get a foothold in Western Maryland with a program could utilize the space, according to Kauffman. You would now have that college making an investment in the community, he said.

Kauffman stressed that the educational center plans are not an announcement but a project that is in development.

Hershberger also disclosed plans to market the Willowbrook Road medical corridor by developing incentive programs to expand the location with more investment.

It was announced that the state has nearly finished its property inventory database. The online purveyor of economic opportunities in Allegany County and across the state is already available on the Maryland Department of Business and Education website.

The economic plan also wants to focus on retention and expansion of business in the city by first identifying potential growth sectors and underserved markets. A survey will be conducted with recruitment efforts to follow to move the plan forward.

Adding new signs to help differentiate neighborhoods and visitors to have better visual assistance in navigating downtown is also planned.

In other council news, although the city is in the process of passing an ordinance to raise sewer bills by 20 percent to help offset a $1.2 million sewer fund deficit, it was confirmed that the city will not raise real estate or personal property taxes.

City resident Don Bohrer spoke during the public comment session to ask the city to help move his plan along to create a campground on his 40-acre property between Canal Parkway and the North Branch of the Potomac River beginning at Elizabeth Street.

The grounds would run near the bridge connecting the city to Wiley Ford.

Bohrer, who said he has been working on the venture for more than a year, said his property is landlocked by National Park Service owned tracts.

“Right now the National Park Service says I don’t have proper deeded access. They have asked the city to hold up my permit,” said Bohrer.

Bohrer said that the city won’t go forward until the issue with the National Park Service is resolved.

He told the mayor and council that he continually runs into obstacles and delays trying to get answers from the park service.

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

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