There is no overstating the importance of Berlin scoring a demolition grant from the state to raze existing buildings on the Heron Park property. In fact, it’s the best news to ever come out of this regrettable 2016 property purchase.
It’s well known Berlin is in a pickle with Heron Park. There was blunt talk about the park and its future during last fall’s campaign season. The town needs to make the best out of what is becoming painfully clear – the town never should have purchased the land and bailed out the private property owners who were themselves stuck with a huge headache. It’s an industrial piece of property plagued with environmental and structural problems. It’s going to take a lot of money for it to become a viable piece of open space with any real benefit to town citizens.
It’s resources the Town of Berlin does not have the luxury of spending. Up until this grant was awarded the only positive to come out of this property purchase was the early grassroots of the advisory committee that met for months brainstorming future initiatives. The committee’s long-range work and discussions about the property future were ultimately grounded with the realization no money existed to do anything of note.
What happens next will be interesting. The $500,000 grant – one of 27 issued through a Maryland revitalization program under the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development – is not expected to fund the entire building demolition and removal effort. The town will likely have to ante up some funds to complete the work, but it’s a necessary investment. Once the demolition work is complete, the town will have much to decide on the property.
The property should be more appealing on the real estate market once the site is cleared. We continue to support selling parcels of the property to reduce the town’s debt burden on the purchase. Addressing the huge payments – totaling about $275,000 annually – should be the top priority. It seems a majority of the council supports at least exploring the prospect and evaluating potential buyers.
Conversely, holding on to the property for a larger park redevelopment concept is as intriguing and it is complicated. Any effort to transform this property into a performing arts venue or outdoor event space will take town funds, albeit through a public-private partnership or going it alone. It’s money the town should not flirt with spending.
Significant funding help through the demolition grant represents opportunity for the town. It’s been a long time since the property’s prospects even slightly bordered on optimism. We continue to believe selling at least a portion of the property fronting the road is the town’s best bet.