downtown mall

Cumberland officials hope a project to renovate the downtown pedestrian mall begins in late spring or early summer.

CUMBERLAND, Md. — City officials are seeking a $100,000 grant to help downtown restaurant owners upgrade their outdoor furnishings for patrons once the pedestrian mall is renovated.

The grant request was discussed at a work session held Wednesday at City Hall. Cumberland Mayor Ray Morriss and members of the City Council received an update on the mall project, which will include upgrading underground utility lines and reinstalling Baltimore Street through the mall.

City officials remain hopeful that ground will be broken on the $9.7 million project in the spring or summer.

Matt Miller, director of the Cumberland Economic Development Corp., asked that the grant come from the $20 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act aid received by the city.

According to the CEDC request, the funding would be used to “provide assistance to restaurant owners to purchase more durable and aesthetically-appropriate furnishings that could also create a uniform appearance throughout the city, primarily downtown.”

“I think it presents an opportunity to unify our outdoor furnishings throughout the city, in particular downtown restaurant businesses who utilize much of the outdoor dining facilities,” said Miller. “This would provide them the opportunity to obtain a grant through the city’s funding that would give them adequate furnishing that would match the aesthetic nature of our future downtown appearance. So, we can have a say in what they look like and have them match the furnishings we will be incorporating in the new downtown plan.”

Miller said the funding would give restaurant owners the opportunity “to obtain some nice furniture that is heavy duty and would last longer.”

The downtown will also receive a new streetscape with colored pavers as a surface, new trees, shrubs and flowers and a parklet with a waterfall.

“Everything the funding could be used for would be preapproved by a committee,” said Miller, “that way we will have a shopping list, if you will, for them to pick from. That way we sort of do have a say in it, but it is hard to tell them what they should and shouldn’t do. I think it is a win-win. I’ve talked to several restaurant owners downtown and they are all for it.”

Morriss asked if the restaurant owners would be asked to contribute any matching funds as part of the program. Miller said he had intended it to be a 100% grant, but he would be open to suggestions.

City officials still have many requirements from both the state and federal highway administrations before they can put the job out to bid.

State Del. Jason Buckel recently asked Maryland Department of Transportation officials for help getting the project underway. At a recent gathering of state and local transportation officials, Buckel said, “We don’t want to be sitting here a year from now and this project has still not begun.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Bobby Smith, city engineer, said, “We plan on submitting the (project) drawings back to state highways tomorrow. It could take six weeks to get their comments.”

Smith said comments from regulators can result in “small changes” to the plans. Once the state and federal officials are fully satisfied, the project will need to go out for bid to secure a contractor to complete the work. Then an approval of the procurement process must be done before the project is presented to the Maryland Board of Public Works in Baltimore.

Council member Laurie Marchini said, “In all fairness, this project is something that there is a point where a lot of the process is out of our hands and it is in the hands of others.”

“We expect to break ground in late spring, early summer,” said Smith. “So that is our guess. We will start construction as soon as possible. I do not expect to be asking ‘when will it start’ a year from now.”

Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email glarry@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter

@GregLarryCTN.

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Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email glarry@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter @greglarryctn.