Berlin Eyes Main St. Program

BERLIN – The opportunity to reapply for the Maryland Main Street Program was fleeting, but Berlin managed to get its application in just under the wire, local program coordinator Michael Day reported last week.

Day personally drove the application, along with a similar application for Pocomoke City, to Annapolis on the due date, June 11, two days after the Berlin Mayor and Council meeting.

“You had Main Street before and lost the designation because they changed the requirements,” Berlin Main Street Coordinator Michael Day told the council at last Monday’s meeting during his attempt to get the “intense” application approved for submittal.

About 10 years ago, the state began requiring Main Street programs, which pursue economic revitalization of historic downtowns through preservation, to have a part- or full-time paid manager.

Berlin could not meet this requirement at the time, but four years ago, Berlin and Pocomoke City clubbed together to hire Day to manage a program for each town.

Since then, the town has pursued its own Main Street program, without any help from the state, while waiting for the Maryland Main Street Program to open to new participants.

“We’ve had no coordinating program to work with to guide us through the process,” Day said. “Maryland won’t even allow me to attend training or any of the meetings.”

Despite the lack of state assistance, Berlin’s Main Street efforts are “alive and well,” Day said.

The current effort in Berlin and Pocomoke City cannot really be called a Main Street program, Day said, labeling his work a downtown coordinating program instead.

The Maryland Main Street Program seeks to enhance the economy of traditional towns and neighborhoods through preserving and rehabilitating historic buildings, planning, and marketing.

Despite the hiring of a paid manager in 2004, Maryland Main Street was not accepting new applications, not until a few weeks ago.

“The state opened it up to try and clear out some back log stuff with a due date of June 11,” said Day. “I had to kind of scramble.”

The timing was tough, coming right in the middle of budget season for both towns. “Everything on this has been fast tracked. Its giving us an opportunity so we have to jump on it,” said Day.

There is no guarantee Berlin will make it back onto the Maryland Main Street list.

“We’re in competition with about 10 towns in the state. I don’t know how many they will accept,” Day said.

Berlin and Pocomoke City will not be in suspense for long. Day said he has been told the decisions will be announced in one to two weeks.

The Maryland Main Street program is also making grant funds available to participating towns for the first time in years.

Day said the town could move more quickly on preservation and enhancement projects as part of the state program.

“It’s a snowball effect. It’s taking little baby steps and making things happen. We could take bigger steps than the coordinating program,” Day said.

Berlin should take advantage of the help the Maryland Main Street Program would offer, said Williams, like training and grant possibilities that the town would have to pursue through different avenues otherwise.

“I think we would be one of the role models in the state,” Williams said.