Over the past five years, the neighborhood near the main post office on Park Street has been reduced to empty lots and a handful of houses, where dozens of homes, a dance studio, former tavern, gym and church once stood.
Despite setbacks, delays and the specter of eminent domain, the plan to turn land near Interstate 68 into a travel plaza is continuing, with the sale of two more structures in the targeted development area complete and talks underway to obtain others.
Slated to fall soon is 410 Park St., the lone residence still standing on that segment of the busy thoroughfare.
At the outset of the Cumberland Gateway project, the Times-News was outspoken in its opposition after a reporter was first told by a resident that the city was attempting to purchase houses there without prior public notice or input. The newspaper disagreed with the manner in which it began, especially since funding derived from taxes was involved.
The newspaper has devoted much space over the years to stories about the endeavor, the oversight for which has shifted with the transfer of ownership. Residents have refused to sell and move. Organizations have joined the fight in a campaign to leverage public opinion. Lawyers have offered to help the cause.
The Rolling Mill neighborhood was named for the B&O Railroad’s rail rolling mill and bolt and forge shop, a massive wooden structure resembling a capsized ark and adjoining yards that sprawled across land now occupied by the Martin’s strip mall and other nearby businesses. The B&O’s successor, CSX Transportation, still owns a large chunk of land there.
Mayor Ray Morriss is among those who prefer the creation of a blank slate, an open space that can be carved up accordingly, but it seems that “build-around” development will be necessary.
More than 50 homes and other buildings have been removed of the 67 present when the project started in the spring of 2015.
It’s understandable why homeowners refuse to sell. Some have said they are sentimentally attached, having raised their families in their homes and had joyful experiences there. Others who own their homes realize that it would be difficult to purchase a comparable dwelling without going into debt with a new mortgage. Standing up for one’s rights certainly plays a part.
Staff writer Greg Larry recently reported that Matt Miller, interim executive director of the Cumberland Economic Development Corp., said, “Things seem to be moving forward.”
The outgoing CEDC chief, Paul Kelly, said work on portions of the plaza could begin by the end of the year under agreements with the developer, Klein Scott Visco Commercial Real Estate of Frederick.
Although doubts remain, a hotel, sit-down restaurant, fast food establishment, convenience store and shops may someday rise from the rubble.
It is high time for actual construction to commence, adding to the city’s tax base as was originally envisioned.