Berlin’s Main Street Program To Absorb Commercial Group

BERLIN – A fading commercial association in Berlin will be folded into Berlin’s Main Street program to provide more benefits to the town.

Berlin’s Commercial District Management Authority (CDMA), which is funded by business license fees, has in the past spent that funding as required on marketing, specifically on a billboard and a brochure.

“Since August, we’ve not had a quorum at any meeting, and no direction from the board,” said Main Street Coordinator Michael Day.

At the most recent meeting, while there was no quorum, those present discussed alternate futures for the CDMA.

The CDMA program has served the town well but outlived its usefulness, said Mayor Gee Williams. The CDMA was limited to print advertising and unable to explore additional avenues.

“I think the CDMA has kind of outgrown itself,” said Councilwoman Lisa Hall, the council delegate to the program.

It is not unusual for CDMAs to evolve like this, Day said.

Before the Main Street program was instituted, the CDMA was the only organized economic development initiative in town, Williams said.

Folding the CDMA into the Main Street program will benefit the town, Day explained.

Unlike the CDMA, the Main Street program has six active committees.

The CDMA has qualities that Main Street does not. Berlin’s CDMA is a non-profit entity, which would allow Main Street to seek other funding sources than currently available to the government-funded partnership.

“The Main Street program could put it to work right away applying for grants not available to governments,” said Day.

The Main Street director has his eye on one state grant in particular, the Neighborhood Business Works (NBW) grant, which is only available to non-profits who have not yet received any NBW money.

There are also other opportunities from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to be pursued through the non-profit avenue provided by the CDMA, Day said.

The Berlin business license fees collected for advertising by the CDMA just allows the town’s Main Street program to leverage more state money, according to Day.

The Main Street program would act as an umbrella organization for economic development, Williams said.

The different committees tend to overlap, but bringing CDMA under Main Street’s wing would be more efficient, a woman in the audience said.

“The Chamber [of Commerce] would not be under this umbrella. It’d be separate but we’d work together,” Day said.

There was some question on how to formulate the change under Berlin’s legal code.

The CDMA statute should be amended, not repealed, said town attorney Dave Gaskill, and the CDMA money would then be forwarded to the Main Street program.

“The CDMA has been an anachronism for a long time. It needs to go,” said Council member Paula Lynch. “I think it’s a great idea. Its time has come.”

Gaskill will prepare the necessary code amendment, which will be considered at the first town council meeting in April.

“We don’t want to have an organization that has outlived its purpose,” said Williams.

A concerted economic development effort should benefit Berlin, some said.

“We would be more aware of what’s going on in the whole town,” said Day.