If a recent update on the Baltimore Street Redevelopment Project is any indication, city officials remain optimistic for a fall 2021 start despite a $2.5 million funding gap.

If their optimism is genuine, and this is no way to say it’s anything but, it’s a good thing, they’re the ones that will steer the boat on the project, envisioning the location of a far off shore. Yet, one can’t help but wonder how yelling into the fog time and again, “there be land o’er yonder,” impacts the rowers.

The project has had tentative start dates of spring and fall of this year, spring of next and now fall of next. No problem, big projects get delayed all the time. With trying to close a funding gap of $2.5 million and then having to solve for the labyrinthian oversight and review that comes with funds secured from local, state and federal agencies, it would be foolish not to expect delays.

As William Cochrane of Cochrane Studios, who designed the mall’s landscape plans, 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.”

These are delicate times, but what about the stakeholders? What about the businesses along the downtown mall who are being told to get ready, get prepared, this is the start date, and now that is?

Business will be impacted by the project; when they’re open, if they’re open, even how people will get inside the buildings. The promise of a revitalized downtown mall area and the benefits that come with it is enticing, but the businesses already there have to be able to make it to that point.

Hard decisions, one has to think with everything going on with COVID-19, are being made based in the promise of this project, and to be rowing without knowing to where, with only trust in the lookout to guide you, will probably get old at some point. Something concrete and repeatable can satiate the unease — the whole one in the hand, two in the bush thing.

It’s a vital part of a healthy local government to keep the public up to date and involved in the processes of governance, and maybe it’s time to think hard about solving the funding gap, being realistic about the time it will take to close it and giving a concrete proposed start date based on it, or proposing a Plan B or Plan C that unfortunately lessens the scope. Either way, limbo is an uncomfortable place to be.

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