Berlin Eyes Grant For New Building Process

BERLIN – Grant money could bring the replacement of the Flower Street Multi-Purpose Building another step close to beginning, if the state looks favorably on a grant application to pay for studies and plans for the project.

While the town of Berlin has committed $25,000 toward a study of the existing Multi-Purpose Building as well as engineering work for the planned new structure, another $50,000 is needed to get that preliminary planning work accomplished, according to staff reports during Monday night’s town council meeting.

“I think it’ll be enough to make a decision on what to do with the building,” said Michael Day, new economic development director for the town of Berlin.

The town hopes to get that funding from the state of Maryland Community Legacy grant program. The grant is extremely competitive this year, with 170 requests totaling $30 million competing for $4.2 million in grant funds.

“Most everyone agrees the building needs to be torn down. We need some proof of that,” said Day.

Renovation would be too costly, building supporters have concluded.

“We need to replace that building because it’s definitely falling apart,” said Diana Purnell, building manager and a board member of the Berlin Community Improvement Association (BCIA), owner of the nearly 50-year-old building. Shore-Up is currently leasing the building.

More information is also needed to allow the pursuit of bigger grants.

“We’ve got to have some data and plans,” said Day.

To that end, the Berlin Community Improvement Association also needs to become an official non-profit as well.

The current building needs some improvements so it can be used until plans for the new building are more concrete. Day said the improvements are needed to show that the community need for the facility exists. “We want to showcase it,” said Day.

“There’s a lot of strong support here to carry out these goals,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams.

Goals for the new facility, while amorphous, include some new roles.

“We would like to see it evolve into a true community center,” said Williams.

“We want to serve the Berlin community, the entire community,” said Purnell. “It enhances Berlin totally. It’s a great idea.”

Service organizations and youth activities would be a strong focus for the new building, Purnell said. She also would like to see space in the new building to display Berlin historical artifacts.

A new community center on Flower Street would allow many events that are now scattered around town to be held in a more central location, Purnell said.

While a proposed performing arts center in the Berlin area is off the radar for now, a Flower Street community center cold provide a 200-seat space for smaller artistic performances, Day suggested.

The arts and entertainment district boundaries were drawn specifically to include the Multi-Purpose Building property. There’s always a need for smaller venues, Day said, even if the larger performing center is built.

“This certainly has the long-term potential as an asset to the entire community,” Williams said.

The town needs to forge a new relationship with the other stakeholders in the Multi-Purpose building, the BCIA and building tenant Shore-Up, Williams felt.

“We need to all get together and have a good sit down,” said Williams.

Purnell said the BCIA is open to any sort of partnership.

“We will partner with as many people as we can to do whatever we need to do. The Mayor and Council are doing a great job,” Purnell said.

Day said the work taking place is the beginning of a long process.

“This is just the first baby steps in a much, much larger project,” said Day.

“We’re ready to go. We’re totally supportive,” said Williams.

Day also plans to hold more than one visioning meeting, hoping to bring together Berliners from both east and west side to discuss community wants and needs for the new building.

“We’ve got to sit down and look at what we want because that’s how you know what you can afford,” said Purnell.

BCIA said it would bring the list of necessary improvements to the current building back before the Berlin Mayor and Council in two weeks.

Williams also asked that a nice sign be put up at the Multi-Purpose building.

“If we’re going to take pride in something, we’ve got to put our name on it as a community,” said Williams.