Making Main Street a Destination

There are a number of towns in our region that planners charged with restoring vitality to the Elkton town center may look to for ideas. One of the best examples is Havre de Grace.  After its business area stagnated in the ‘60s and ‘70s, community leaders started implementing strategies to restore the central business district and they’ve had great success.

This summer walk through blocks full of antiques stores, specialty shops, and fine restaurants located in attractive historic buildings on one of the first Friday’s the Chamber of Commerce sponsors and you’ll see what we mean. The streets will be filled with people who’ve made the city a destination, having come to those several blocks to enjoy the ambiance of a summer evening at the top of the Chesapeake, where there is entertainment, shopping, and fine dining. We’ve watched Havre de Grace make a full cycle with this transformation, from vital mid-century town center to decline and finally to a destination spot for the greater Baltimore area.

To do this they came together and created broad based community support, which included supporting a strong, growing cluster of museums and cultural institutions. Of the five museums at the mouth of the Susquehanna there are five and all of them are fine, while some are outstanding. For a long time the city has supported each of these hard working, largely volunteer based institutions with a stipend to aid in the expansion and development of programs that attract visitors. This current fiscal year, according to the Havre de Grace newspaper, the Record, the city allocated $75,000 in its budget to support those museums. The $15,000 provided to each museum included an increase of $3,000. Mayor Wayne Dougherty, when he proposed the increase, said “he believed the museums had been shortchanged by the city,” considering what they contribute to the local economy.

Mayor Dougherty cites their benefit to the city and its heritage and the paramount role they play in attracting visitors. The local newspaper, the Record, called this support a bargain, saying “These organizations are civic treasures which have played a major role in Havre de Grace’s economic revival and they will continue to be important to this effort. To us, $75,000 is a bargain for the taxpayers to help main their viability.

Each locality, as it seeks to create a unique sense of place and attract people back to town, has to drawn on its own unique assets and resources.  Havre de Grace has successfully done that. We congratulate the Mayor and Commissioners of Havre de Grace and the city’s Main Street Program on the success they’ve had with this important program. It was one of our favorite local destination spots.

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4 responses to “Making Main Street a Destination

  1. First of all, let me be clear. I am not a resident of Elkton or of Cecil County. However, I play one on some weekends and the second Tuesday of every month.

    Because I spend some time in Elkton and I have an interest in history, this blog caught my attention. The partnership (and that’s what it is) between the town of Havre Grace and its historical community warrants further examination.
    There isn’t that much difference between Havre de Grace and Elkton. They both have rich histories and played leading roles in more than one event of national significance. They both have ancient structures within their municipal limits that stand in testament to that history. And finally, they both have civic mechanisms that can or could be utilized to generate interest and commerce within those limits. The difference is Havre de Grace is pursuing those mechanisms and Elkton isn’t.

    Allow me to elaborate. There are at least four private and semi private bodies in Elkton that celebrate area history, culture, and commerce: Historic Elk Landing, The Historical Society of Cecil County, The Arts Counsel, and the Elkton Alliance. Two of these four organizations have come under fire for different reasons lately, but folks, including the host of Someone Noticed, are going to need to get past that if the interest of the town is to be met. So, if we can bury the hatchet for just a few minutes… I would suggest a new Elkton Alliance. This would be an Alliance that includes, not only the commercial aspects of the town, but the historic and cultural as well. Marry the three under an alliance umbrella that would do several things: advertise events, help fund events, brain storm ideas for events, compliment each other when one or the other is conducting an event, and generally provide support, both moral and financial to make each successful. The real success would be Elkton and its citizens.

    The new alliance would NOT be a merging of the organizations nor combining of their monetary resources. However, it would be a channeling or redistribution, if you will, of Elkton Alliance resources into supporting the activities of these organizations. For example, when the Arts Counsel has a renowned artist to display and/or speak about their work, the Alliance would fund the advertising, maybe pay for a reception. When the Historical Society conducts an interpretive historic walk through Elkton, the Alliance would fund the advertising, arrange for the streets to be open to foot traffic only, and maybe help underwrite the character actors. When Historic Elk Landing presents a 19th century Christmas celebration, the Alliance would, again, pay for the advertising, help pay for the refreshments, and character interpreters, and assist in spreading the event across several historic venues, celebrating the holidays in the fashion of that particular historic site.

    One more thing, somewhere down the road, the Alliance could also fund a coordinator for these events, so that they are not only done in conjunction with Alliance members, but are done professionally and historically accurately. As we have seen at other historic sites, the more professional the organization the more professional the results.

    Finally, what about the money? The Elkton Alliance already receives $100,000 annually from the town of Elkton. Although times are tough, there are granting agencies, both public and private, still funding historic projects. They are a potential source of future revenue. But another source is the funding resulting from programming that attracts citizens. As we see in Havre de Grace, they did it and people came. Like I said earlier, the real success would be the town of Elkton.

    Publius

  2. The big difference between Have de grace and Elkton is water. People go to HDG not only for the antique shops but to see the lighthouse, the nationally famous decoy museum and sit on the deck overlooking the water at Tidewater Grille. There is also a waterfront park and walking trail.
    Elkton is landlocked unless you count the ballfields that are underwater every time it rains! Water is also a big attraction for Chesapeake City visitors even if they do not come by boat.
    But it is a good idea for all the groups in Elkton to cooperate on whatever strategy they come up with to improve the town.

  3. Pubilius

    Though you’re not an Elktonian Publius, we’re glad to hear you spend some time in the county seat. We’re glad to have a few visitors down on the street. As for your comments, I think you’re on to something about working together. It’s one of the challenges or opportunities that needs to be addressed. When you examine successful interventions, you’ll see much outreach gets done to continually try to build and foster a team environment. I recognize that’s a challenge for many small towns and the central planners need to made that ongoing efffort a core strategy. I haven’t seen much (if any) of that, but perhaps I’ve missed it.

    As for this blog, all we’re doing is reporting on what’s happening. That came about because important news and actions of the town weren’t being reported by local media. Actually we’re very tame as these blogging things go. Visit some of the others around the region, and you’ll see what we mean.

  4. Louise:

    That’s another point Main Street manager’s every where work on immediatley as they begin the revitalization process. Every community has its own unqiue sense of place and resources to draw on. Some are colleges towns, while some are located at the top of the Chesapeake or what have you. To have success you’re gong to have to figure our your resources and draw on those if you hope to make your town into a destination spot, if that’s your vision. For Elkton, I often thought it was being the center of local govenrment since that dumped perhaps 400 workers a day into the center of the town, until the county commissioners took about half of them away. Having hundreds of workers within a few blocks of your business helps a lot with customer traffic. But we’ve lost about half of that base, and it was noticable.

    We’ll never have the water Havre de Grace does or the college town setting in other places, so what are Elkton’s strategies and resources? That would be a baseline project I’d work on in order to move to the next step, the design of apporiate interventions that create this special sense of place that will allow a competitive environment in the Wal-Mart and Internet era.

    There are significaint and growing challenges here.

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