BERLIN – The Community Development Network of Maryland highlighted Berlin last week in an effort to bring attention to the town’s façade improvement program.
Officials from the Community Development Network of Maryland (CDNM) joined local leaders for a tour through Berlin Oct. 20 during Community Development Week.
“We’re so excited to be in Berlin celebrating Community Development Week,” said Odette Ramos, director of CDNM, “to highlight the coolest small town in America but also to highlight some of the state funding that comes into Berlin to help improve the area.”
Ramos’ organization, a nonprofit with more than 180 members, promotes neighborhood revitalization and small business development. CDNM’s third annual Community Development Week, which runs from Oct. 17-26, includes stops throughout the state to highlight various projects. In Berlin, the focus was on the popular façade grant program.
Ivy Wells, Berlin’s economic development director, said the façade grants available through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development had been used by several businesses in town. Through the program, the state provides matching grants of $500 to $10,000 to businesses making eligible improvements to their storefronts.
She says the program encourages merchants to keep up the appearances of their shops even if they don’t apply for a grant themselves. She said the popularity of the program had inspired the owner of the building next to Rayne’s Reef to work on it.
“They didn’t want to wait for the façade grant but because all the other businesses were using that money to make improvements they wanted to go ahead and get started,” Wells said.
She said she’d had five applications in the past month from merchants interested in the grants.
Rick Stack, who with his wife operates Design Resources, a design and project management company, said he’d worked on projects in Berlin and Snow Hill that had taken advantage of façade grant funding. The money, he said, helped defray the increased costs that could be associated with work on historic buildings.
“Construction costs are a little more when you’re doing repair and renovation to historic properties,” Stack said. “A lot of it has to do with the careful process. They say the devil is in the details.”
And while it can cost a bit more, Stack stressed the importance of maintaining the historic character of the town’s buildings. He said in Berlin, the town’s historic charm was what drew in visitors.
“A lot of them say they come here for the historic character of the town,” he said.
Delegate Charles Otto praised the façade grant program and said it allowed for improvements in municipalities throughout the state.
“We’ve made some mistakes,” he said. “We’d like to improve upon them. Together we’re going to improve. Programs like this will allow us to improve and remember our past and the ones that forged ahead before us.”
Delegate Mary Beth Carozza said the grants resulted in an economic and tourism boost.
“I’m not only excited about the fact we’re leveraging these dollars and making improvements right on Main Street in Berlin,” she said, “but I also see it’s meeting a bigger obligation that I have which is to make sure those government dollars we are using we’re using effectively.”
For more information on façade grants in Berlin visit the town’s website www.berlinmd.gov.