Downtown mall renovation project delayed

Despite a funding gap of $2.5 million for the Baltimore Street Redevelopment Project, city officials remain optimistic the project will come to fruition but not before late summer or fall of 2021.

CUMBERLAND — Despite a funding gap of $2.5 million for the Baltimore Street Redevelopment Project, city officials remain optimistic the project will come to fruition but not before late summer or fall of next year.

"I feel very confident that our group will be able to minimize the funding gap to a manageable amount to allow the project to proceed as planned," said Matt Miller, executive director of the Cumberland Economic Development Corp. in an email sent to the Times-News.

In addition to the funding gap, the project has been again delayed due to the amount of oversight and review required by state and federal agencies, officials say. After plans to begin construction this year were scrubbed and moved to the spring, it was announced this week that construction is now not likely to begin until at least mid-2021.

A review of the project, which includes reinstalling Baltimore Street through the downtown pedestrian mall, was given by Miller during a virtual meeting held Tuesday. In attendance were Cumberland Mayor Ray Morriss and City Council members, as well as Bobby Smith, city engineer, and William Cochrane of Cochrane Studios, the firm that developed the landscape and aesthetic designs.

"These next few months, they are incredibly critical to the project," Cochrane said. "It's a miracle it has come this far. It is important in the sense every single decision we make has the potential to bring great benefit to Cumberland or to reduce them depending on how we make them and the wisdom with which we make them. I think (the project) can change the trajectory of the city.

"I firmly believe this project can help catalyze literally hundreds of millions of dollars of public and private investment in the city in the coming decade," he said. "We will have to follow the approved design as close as we possibly can and make a decision how to value engineer it and cut any fat that we can."

The total amount secured for the project is $7.2 million; it's estimated to cost $9.7 million.

So far, Miller said, funds secured include $5.2 million from the Maryland State Highway Administration Transportation Alternatives Program, $1.25 million from the federally funded Appalachian Regional Commission, $681,000 from the city of Cumberland toward engineering costs and $47,500 contributed by the Downtown Development Commission toward design costs.

However, Miller said he hopes to revisit the funding sources as well as others to secure additional money by next summer. Other possible sources include state Community Development Block Grants, Community Legacy funding and, possibly, stimulus money.

The delays in getting the plan drawings have been slowed due to three layers of review, officials said. With city, state and federal dollars involved, all agencies must review the plans at each step.

Currently, the drawings, which are 90% complete, are under review. Smith expects the 100% complete drawings to be ready for review by Nov. 1.

"Sometimes the (reviews) can go back and forth," Smith said. "The State Highway Administration will take two or three months. It could be around two or three times with additional submissions. After the state review, it goes to the Federal Highway Administration for their review. You determine what changes may be needed. Sometimes it is two or three rounds."

After the drawings are approved, Smith said the mayor and City Council and Cochrane will review them.

"It can take awhile. We hope to get the project out to bid (to contractors) in the summer," Smith said.

Contractors bids will also have an impact on the scope of the project. According to officials, the bids will determine how much of the plans can be afforded.

"I think if we are careful and we make wise decisions, we can make whatever changes we might have to make after we see once the bids come in," said Sandra Saville, chair of the Downtown Development Commission. "If we can't do it all the way, then it's how can we retain as much of the vision as possible. We are very excited about this project and want to keep the vision going."

Morriss said, "I hope when the bid packages come in, it is right in our wheelhouse for finance and we don't have to make a lot of tough decisions."

 Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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