Morriss optimistic for local economy

Ray Morriss

CUMBERLAND — Ray Morriss, who will be sworn in as mayor of Cumberland on Monday, said he is optimistic for future economic growth in the area.

Morriss defeated two-term incumbent Brian Grim in the November general election and will take the oath of office at noon in City Hall. He recently sat down for a wide-ranging interview with the Times-News. 

The mayor-elect said the Maryland Avenue Redevelopment Project, which includes a proposed plaza in the Rolling Mill neighborhood, shows a lot of potential.

“I think people are going to see more development from private companies there and hopefully it’s going to take off,” Morriss said. “That is how you increase the tax base. To me, basically it is a commercial area. But that is not to say there can’t be some housing infrastructure down there also. You see a lot of commercial properties that have residential areas on the second and third floors.”

Morriss said he hopes those still refusing to sell their properties in the corridor will reconsider.

“Between the CEDC (Cumberland Economic Development Corp.) and private firms, there will be a lot of talking to the residents,” Morriss said. “I hope the residents understand this is a good opportunity for them to sell at probably a higher price than it would have been valued at before.

“We want them to stay in the city of Cumberland. We want them to find housing within the city of Cumberland so they can stay.”

First Peoples Community Federal Credit Union is in the process of constructing an office in the corridor, adjacent to Martin’s Foods.

“Obviously, First Peoples saw it as a good opportunity for them,” Morriss said. “I’m sure they did the research, and they know where their members are and determined that would be a good location for them. I think you will see a lot of other companies doing the same thing.”

Morriss said the CEDC and Allegany County are working with several companies interested in the area.

“We can’t get into specifics right now, but I want to make sure they are working together on these projects,” Morriss said. “Look at the expansion Schroeder Industries (in Mexico Farms) is having locally. There are some good success stories out there and there are going to be more.”

Schroeder, a maker of hydraulic filers, is in the midst of its fourth increase in capacity since opening in 1994. The latest expansion includes the construction of a 13,500-square-foot addition.

Morriss said a housing study, currently being pursued by the CEDC, will also be a helpful tool in increasing economic growth.

“When you are trying to attract outside firms to come into your area, you have to show them where they can live and the workers can live,” he said. “You can’t draw people in if you can’t show them acceptable housing.”

Officials close to the $9 million Footer’s Dye Works Building redevelopment project at Canal Place recently reported all 24 luxury apartments in the four-story structure are rented.

“That’s a good sign,” Morriss said. “Like I say, there are a lot of signs indicating that we are turning the corner now with some real positive things that can happen for development, housing and workforce opportunity. You have to develop your workforce for the type of jobs that are being developed.”

Morriss said a proposed $5 million to $7.4 million renovation of the downtown mall, including reinstalling Baltimore Street, is a good move.

“Yes, it will make a positive impact,” he said. “I’ve talked with a lot of the owners of the properties down there, they really believe that opening that up will give people the opportunity to have access to their storefronts to see what is there and see what is available ... especially in the wintertime.

“It will be interesting to see what Cochran Design Group comes up with,” he added. “We are building it for the future and the sorts of things they will be looking for. A big part of it will be entertaining and dining.”

Morriss wants to work with DelFest representatives to expand their brand into the downtown. Plans include a second fall festival featuring food and music that will branch into the downtown. Officials with Allegany County are currently in the process of clearing any restrictions on liquor sales in entertainment zones during such events.

“I really want to work with (DelFest) for the fall festival that they are working toward,” Morriss said. “I know they are feeling their way through the process of what they want it to be and how to connect it into the downtown area. They are working on the concept themselves and putting emphasis on the event in Cumberland. The city wants to make it work as well.”

Morriss said Cumberland has much to offer.

“This is a wonderful area we have with all the outdoor activities. We have the biking the trails. We have the kayaking coming potentially with the new river project (behind Canal Place). With all that, and coming up with a new single marketing strategy for Cumberland and Allegany County, it’s very positive,” he said.

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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