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CUMBERLAND — City officials agreed Tuesday to look for fresh ideas for two local development projects in light of the recent increase in demand for housing in the area.

Cumberland Mayor Ray Morriss and the City Council discussed several ongoing economic development projects during a virtual work session held Tuesday afternoon. The projects discussed included the 8-acre former Memorial Hospital tract in South Cumberland and the former M&T Bank Building on the downtown mall.

Matt Miller, executive director of the Cumberland Economic Development Corp., told city officials that now is the time to explore options for the former hospital site.

“It has a ton of potential,” said Miller. “It is prime for development and we hate to see it sit vacant any longer than it has to. I’m ready to move forward with (it) and I’ve already received some interest in the property.”

Memorial Hospital was vacated in 2009 with the opening of the Western Maryland Regional Medical Center on Willowbrook Road. The former hospital structure was subsequently torn down in 2015. 

Located on Memorial Avenue, the former hospital property still has two parking garages, which offer 300 spaces, located at the south end of the tract. 

Miller said he would like the city to convey the property to the CEDC so he could market it.

“We have gained tremendous turnaround in terms of our housing market with the COVID-19 and people trying to get away from densely populated areas to more rural areas such as Cumberland,” said Miller. “It would behoove us to take advantage of it. The site is beautiful. I’m looking forward to vetting the multiple proposals we will receive to provide the best use of the property.”

Morriss agreed.

“Now is exactly the time to be working on housing when the market is hot,” said Morriss. “But we certainly are open for whatever a developer may feel fits in there and whether it could be residential, or mixed-use, depending what a developer sees when they look at a particular lot.”

Officials also want to consider all options for the former M&T Bank Building located at 118 Baltimore St. on the downtown pedestrian mall.

The five-story, 44,000-square-foot building has a tax assessment of $1.6 million. The CEDC purchased the building in 2019 for $500,000 utilizing state grant dollars.

City officials had expressed interest in repurposing the former bank building to install a 48-room boutique hotel at the site. Once converted to a hotel, the location could be used as a training facility for ACM hospitality students.

However, with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, officials feel a hotel may not be the best use for the building.

“I’ve been putting a lot of thought into the property,” said Miller. “Historically, there has been a lot of talk about the boutique hotel. I would love to see that happen, but I have a growing concern given our current business climate and the uncertainty of how much interest we will have. We need to maybe look at other options and uses to best serve our downtown area.

“It will come down to what the private sector says, what the best use of this property is. Right now we may want to see what other options (there are). I just want to bring it to your attention that there may be other uses for the property outside of a boutique hotel,” said Miller.

“The industry right now, what we are seeing, it is really hard to obtain financing for hotel projects right now,” he added. “They offer a certain amount of risk that some of the financial institutions are not willing to take. It would be shortsighted to limit the scope. It may be wise to go back to the drawing board. Let’s see what proposals we receive. It’s a big, beautiful building downtown and I don’t want see it sit there empty.”

Morris said, “I think you are on the spot. After COVID we need to be open to options. The marketplace will deicide what the building becomes. It still may be a boutique hotel. But we need to remain open-minded on what may be the best option going forward.”

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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