CUMBERLAND —Plans for the expansion of the Canal Place Heritage Area were dealt a blow recently when state officials informed the Canal Place authority that the organization is too understaffed and underfunded to proceed with the plan.
The expansion was part of what Canal Place calls its management plan update.
Any zones, districts or communities that are absorbed into the heritage area be-come eligible for associated grants and other funding.
The state’s decision came as a shock to Canal Place officials, who felt the plan was nearing its completion following months of work and review from participants across Maryland.
“This coming in at the tail end, we’ve been caught a little off guard to be quite honest,” said Andy Vick, chairman for the Canal Place authority.
“We’ve been working on the plan and it’s been looked at by folks from down state throughout the process.”
The concerns were disclosed Tuesday during the regular monthly meeting of the Canal Place authority, which has a staff of three full-time employees.
Communication of the concerns was made recently to Canal Place by Marci Ross and Richard Hughes, officials with the Maryland Heritage Area Authority, a significant funding source for Canal Place projects.
Currently, the Canal Place Heritage Area includes portions of downtown Cumberland, Canal Place and the C&O Canal.
The expansion planned to include coal heritage districts and historic transportation routes.
Areas considered for the expansion were along state Route 51, the National Road and scenic railroad byways, state Route 36, the Great Allegheny Passage and the historic districts of Mount Savage.
Michael McKay, Allegany County commission president and Canal Place authority board member, also expressed concerns for the expansion based on feedback he had received from communities like Lonaconing.
“They need to understand the pros and cons of expanding the heritage area. I think it would be good if you reached out,” said McKay.
He said that concerns from communities also center around the fear that more people would be applying for the same amount of funds.
“Are we asking more people to be involved in it with limited funds?” said McKay.
Canal Place Executive Director Dee Dee Ritchie explained the process in an interview with the Times-News on Wednesday.
“There has been communication. However, we were not far enough along in the plan where we could ask the communities to officially join in,” said Ritchie.
Vick and Ritchie hope to move forward and said they will address any issues or concerns with their plan.
“We are regrouping with the hope we can march forward in the short term. There are contracts in place we need to be mindful of as well,” said Vick.
Canal Place was reminded of some other news Tuesday when the issue of funding from the county’s hotel/motel tax revenues was discussed.
Since the Fairfield Inn, which sits on Canal Place property, opened in August 2009, Canal Place has received a percentage of the hotel/motel tax generated there.
Although Canal Place received $50,000 in 2013 and will receive $26,500 for fiscal 2014, the county plans to discontinue tax revenue to Canal Place in 2015.
“That is part of an agreement that Andy and I signed about a year ago,” said McKay.
McKay said the tax revenue was never intended to continue endlessly. He said that it was to help Canal Place while it established itself and became self -funded.
“We did it as a phase-out. It was never supposed to be for longevity,” said McKay.
In other Canal Place news, it was announced that funding had been secured for the construction of a trailhead at the southern end of the rail station.
Officials from Canal Place wanted a substantial trailhead at Cumberland, since it marks the center point between Pittsburgh and Washington and the beginning of the C&O Canal.
A grant for $79,000 was received from the Maryland Heritage Area Authority with matching funds in the same amount already obtained through a federal transportation enhancement grant.
The trailhead will include signs, shelters, bike racks and access for the disabled.
It was also announced that a contract had been signed with the Keast and Hood Co. of Philadelphia to perform a study of the roof and structural integrity of the Footer Dye Works building.
This is the next step in an effort to rehabilitate the historic structure in hopes a developer will take over the project, authority members said.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.