CUMBERLAND — Cumberland Councilman Nick Scarpelli asked Mayor Brian Grim and other council members Tuesday to begin discussions that Scarpelli hopes will lead to establishing $80,000 in funding to assist financially troubled Canal Place.
“I am in favor, along with some of my colleagues, of committing a certain amount of money to Canal Place for the next fiscal year,” said Scarpelli.
Scarpelli spoke at the regular biweekly council meeting at City Hall.
“I would like to commit $80,000 that could be budgeted from the city to Canal Place,” said Scarpelli.
Canal Place is facing a budget deficit of around $125,000 in fiscal year 2015. Canal Place officials say the red ink has been caused by the city and Allegany County’s decision to phase out funding for the tourism center from the hotel/motel tax revenue.
The Canal Place Preservation & Development Authority had received as much as $100,000 in past years in hotel/motel tax dollars collected by the city and county from the Fairfield Inn, which sits on Canal Place’s 11-acre tract.
Both the city and the county discontinued hotel/motel funding for Canal Place, saying the tourism hub needs to become more self-reliant for funding.
Canal Place staff and tenants as well as members of the CPPDA attended the meeting to show support for Scarpelli’s idea for the city to revisit the topic of funding Canal Place.
Some council members expressed surprise at Scarpelli’s decision to take a public stance on the establishment of city funds for Canal Place.
Councilman Dave Caporale was asked for his thoughts.
“We haven’t really spoke about this. It’s sort of coming out of nowhere,” said Caporale.
However, Caporale didn’t oppose the idea of funding Canal Place.
“I agreed before that I didn’t think that totally cutting funding (to Canal Place) was an option,” said Caporale.
Councilman Dave Kauffman wanted more information before proceeding.
“I opposed the continuation of a straight budget allotment from the hotel/motel. I have never opposed looking at funding as an option,” said Kauffman.
Kauffman wanted to know what the funds would be used for and what the intended outcome was.
Scarpelli said the funds would be used for maintenance and operations.
“I’d like to take a look at what’s going in with the change in leadership happening (at Canal Place),” said Kauffman.
It was announced Friday that Andy Vick, chair of the CPPDA, had resigned his position effective Jan. 1 to accept a similar position in Colorado Springs, Colo.
CPPDA vice-chair Rick Thayer is expected to take over Vick’s role until a permanent replacement can be approved for the position by Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Thayer and other supporters of Scarpelli’s funding idea spoke during the public input period.
“I ask for the city’s support; $80,000 would go a long way to help Canal Place,” said Thayer.
Going over the history of Canal Place and the challenges it has faced, including efforts to find a developer for the still-vacant Footer Dye Works Building, Thayer said that many of the problems that have plagued the project were beyond Canal Place’s control.
The historic Footer Dye Works Building sits on the Canal Place lot.
Doug Hutchins, the manger of Cumberland Trail Connections, a business located at Canal Place, also spoke in favor of city funding. He pointed out that a plan to rewater the canal never happened.
“Without your continued support, Canal Place will never be able to fund itself completely,” said Hutchins.
Council member Nicole Wagoner recused herself from the topic since she is an employee of the Fairfield Inn. Mayor Brian Grim, who holds a seat on the CPPDA, did not comment during the meeting due to his conflicting role.
However, in an interview following the meeting, Grim remained skeptical.
“I’d rather spend the money elsewhere. I’d rather not be driving across potholes,” said Grim.
Grim said he did not want to spend money on a facility that the state should be operating. Canal Place is owned by the state.
Grim was asked about Canal Place falling under the umbrella of the city.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out,” said Grim.
Grim said any decision would take the coordination of Canal Place, the state and local officials including Allegany County.
Scarpelli hopes the topic can be debated and eventually brought up for a motion.
In other city news, during a meeting held prior to the regular meeting, the mayor and council selected three topics to present to the District 1 legislative delegation on Wednesday as priority concerns for the upcoming Maryland General Assembly.
The officials agreed to focus on three topics.
The city would like to secure funding for a $30 million combined sewer overflow abatement project. Assistance, possibly as high as $5 million, is also needed to repave Greene Street.
The mayor and council would also like approval for tax credits for those developers who need assistance with sprinklers and elevators and other projects to spur upper-story development projects.
Greg Larry can be contacted at email@example.com.