CUMBERLAND — With three new members present, the Downtown Development Commission discussed a range of topics Thursday from adding video security cameras to the downtown mall to ways to keep open the underpass beneath the railroad tracks at Queen City Drive.
The regular meeting at City Hall was the first for the three new appointees.
“I’ve always been interested in downtown Cumberland. I hope to see if we are doing the right things to retain and attract business,” said Steven Leyh, owner of Away Media, 58 N. Centre St., a website builder.
Appointments for a seat on the DDC, which are for a three-year term, are made by the mayor and City Council. A total of five positions recently became open.
Interested parties, whether already seated or a new applicant, must submit required paperwork to be considered for a seat.
Two DDC members, Bill Shaffer, representing the City Lights American Grill at 59 Baltimore St., and Terry Michels of Queen City Creamery on Harrison Street, were approved to serve another three-year term.
Three positions came open when Andy Vick tendered his resignation due to his status of no longer being a city resident. Lee Schwartz, of The Book Center at 15 N. Centre St., was not reappointed. A third seat had been vacant for some time.
In addition to Leyh, rounding out the three newly appointed positions are Jo Ann Circosta of 107 S. Centre St. and Sharon Mike of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, located in the Schwarzenbach Building.
Leyh occupies the community-at-large seat.
“We’ve been working in the downtown for about six months,” said Leyh. In addition to developing websites for businesses, Leyh’s company creates ads and develops social media packages for clients.
“I want it (the downtown) to grow and to see what steps can be taken for it to become vibrant in the future,” said Leyh.
During the meeting, Ed Mullaney, downtown co-manager, provided the DDC with an update on the underpass beneath the railroad tracks at Queen City Drive.
“The city and the CSX are looking at ways they can keep the underpass open,” said Mullaney.
In addition to the presence of trash, bottles, graffiti and standing water, the underpass suffers from excessive loitering.
Despite efforts to clean it up, including the installation of video cameras, the city, which claims it lacks the staff to monitor it, has grown increasingly frustrated with the underpass.
“No matter what we do it returns to the same condition,” Mayor Brian Grim has told the Times-News in past interviews.
Grim favored closing it recently. However, CSX, which owns the portion beneath the tracks, has not been in favor of closing the tunnel passage.
“They (CSX) say it is a safety issue and we recognize that,” said the mayor.
Officials want the underpass to remain a safe way to cross the railroad tracks.
Grim said a recent meeting with CSX did yield some promising developments.
“CSX contacted us about resurfacing the tracks at the crossing to make it smoother for vehicles. We told CSX we would commit funds to the effort,” said Grim.
Grim has asked for CSX to consider helping to fund maintenance of the underpass through an agreement with a third-party contractor who would clean and maintain the tunnel.
“We are not yet committed to keeping the underpass open. If we can come to an arrangement for its care, we could consider it,” said Grim.
Mullaney has been getting estimates from companies that could provide for the care of the underpass. A decision will be made when the estimates are prepared and a meeting between the city and CSX can be arranged, according to Grim.
Adding additional video cameras on the downtown mall is another issue Mullaney brought up at the meeting.
“The current cameras in place on the mall do not provide adequate security coverage,” said Mullaney.
Mullaney has asked the DDC to consider getting estimates on additional cameras to help prevent vandalism, particulary late at night.
Lee Schwartz, who served on the DDC for more than 30 years, was honored with a certificate for his service.
He has operated The Book Center since the mid 1970s. According to Schwartz, his parents bought the business, then called The News Center, in 1954, making it one of the oldest operating businesses downtown.
Schwartz spoke following the recognition.
“The downtown is at a crucial point. We have lost over 200 jobs. We lost HRDC, Social Services, Chessie moved 40 people, and others. They were good-paying daytime jobs. It’s been a long time since something has been done about retaining and replacing businesses,” said Schwartz.
In an interview following the meeting, Schwartz remained hopeful for the future.
“I think the downtown has potential. The new broadband proposals could help,” he said.
Schwartz commented on the recent changes in the DDC personnel.
“We have new people. The council is looking for new ideas. We need them,” said Schwartz.
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