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October 3, 2013

Canal Place seeking financial help

Tourism hub discusses funding with delegation

CUMBERLAND — Canal Place officials met with the members of the District 1 Legislative Delegation on Thursday to ask for financial help as the tourism hub faces fiscal deficits that are expected to reach $125,000 by 2015.

“We have come a long way since Canal Place’s inception and we are charting the best possible course we can moving forward,” Andy Vick, chairman of the Canal Place Preservation & Development Authority, said to the delegation.

The legislative delegation includes Sen. George Edwards and delegates Kevin Kelly, Wendell Beitzel and LeRoy Myers.

“I think most people would like to see this work. It wouldn’t look too good just sitting there,” said Edwards.

The state, which owns Canal Place, has spent more than $22 million on the tourism center since it began in the mid 1990s.

After a presentation from Canal Place officials, delegation members asked questions ranging from how the CPPDA board was established and the potential of the Footer Dye Works building, to an exploration of funding efforts, the possibility of rewatering the canal, and how to address the stagnant water problems that plague the lock pond at the Canal Place property.

CPPDA officials took turns responding to the questions.

In the end, the delegation made no firm commitment to establish funding for the cash strapped tourism hub, but did offer suggestions and showed interest in supporting any funding efforts that Canal Place may pursue through the state and other potential sources.

“Send the governor a letter and say you are under state authority and state law and under their jurisdiction. Say we are having some difficulties here,” said Edwards.

Edwards said other municipalities have received funding for similar projects.

“When you send these letters, send us a copy. That way we can sit down and evaluate what approach we might take to try to get from A to B,” said Edwards.

Officials from Canal Place hope this is a first step in creating a partnership with the delegation to enlist their help in solving the tourism center’s problems.

Canal Place has stated that the phasing out of funding received from the hotel/motel tax revenue has placed them in a difficult financial position.

The hotel/motel tax revenues are collected by the city and the county and then distributed to Canal Place. Revenue from the hotel/motel tax brought Canal Place about $100,000 in some years.

The funding was a critical source of financial support for the day-to-day operations of Canal Place, according to CPPDA officials.

However, after five years of receiving hotel/motel tax dollars, the city and county have decided to discontinue any further funding for Canal Place from the tax effective fiscal year 2015.

Representing the CPPDA at the meeting was Andy Vick, Dee Dee Ritchie and Rick Thayer. Richard Hughes, of the Maryland Heritage Area Authority in Crownsville, also spoke on grants and other funding arrangements available for Canal Place.

“What are the possibilities of the city or the state running Canal Place?” asked Myers.

Vick explained that any entity that would take over Canal Place will be faced with the same issues.

Edwards asked what might happen if Canal Place’s plan to find a developer to turn the Footer Dye Works building into a viable commercial operation doesn’t work out.

Vick responded,“Then all options would be on the table.”

Edwards said they need to think about that.

Vick did say that Canal Place is no longer requiring any potential developer interested in the Footer Dye Works to be a tourism-related business only.

“We would like the developer to be a tourism-related business but we are open to considering all offers,” said Vick.

Canal Place hopes a commercial operation in the Footer Dye Works building will help the tourism hub’s bottom line. A request for proposals from developers is expected to go out in early January, according to Canal Place officials.

Vick answered questions about the possibility of rewatering the canal.

In the current economic climate, Vick said, a rewatering project would be highly unlikely.

Kelly asked about a complaint he hears from citizens about the stagnant water and over-growth that plagues the lock pond.

Vick said that their hands are tied because it is under the jurisdiction of the park service.

Kelly said that Canal Place should not settle for that and that they need to vigorously pursue a solution such as an air pump or fountain for the pond.

Edwards also echoed the sentiment that Canal Place needs to pursue help on the federal level whenever possible.

“You need to be beating on the door of the federal Congress people and senators and say ‘look we need help,’” said Edwards.  

Canal Place officials also updated the delegation on its efforts to expand the Canal Place Heritage Area. Canal Place hopes to expand the heritage area, which is centered around downtown Cumberland now, to areas of Frostburg, Mount Savage, Georges Creek and Oldtown.

Expansion of the heritage area will be based on the transportation history of the region.

Officials hope it will increase tourism and expanded opportunities for obtaining grants for area projects.

Mayor Brian Grim and Mike McKay, president of the Allegany County Commission, were present but did not speak during the meeting.

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

 

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