Friday, September 13, 2013

Ellicott City Revitalization Recap I

I sure did miss writing the word "Recap".

Last night, approximately 50-60 Ellicott City residents, business-owners, and dedicated neighbors gathered in Dohony Hall at St. Paul's Church to discuss the future of our downtown.  This discussion was conducted by TND Planning Group, which had been hired by the County to facilitate group-sourcing of ideas for a community-developed plan.

For anyone excited about the future of our County, our City, and our community, it was a great night.

The center-piece of this discussion involved breaking out into small groups (5-7) and using stickers to mark an overhead photograph of Ellicott City to note what you liked about Main Street (green) and what needs to change (red).  Each group was then asked to present before the whole.

As may be expected, some groups posted more red than green.  Some individuals used the opportunity to share their love for the City, while others chose this as a moment for public protest.  But overall, you walked away from the night feeling like some measure of "grasp" had been offered to the head-swimmingly big question of "How do we make a good thing great?"

There were some topics we addressed last night that I wanted to share with you to get the discussion outside of the four-walls of Dohony Hall.  Understanding the expense, I would love to see an interactive map online that allows "busy parents" (the construct for any effort towards citizen engagement) to participate in the same way all of us did last night.

Connectivity of the Area

Looking at an overhead picture of Ellicott City, you can't imagine how there could ever be a parking problem.  Square footage of parking appears on par with square footage of commercial space.  But the fastest way to earn a scoff from an Ellicott City business owner is to reference Courthouse parking.  It may as well be in Catonsville.  "Our customers can't handle that hill."  And they're right.  It is a brutal hill.  It is a brutal hill that not only connects Courthouse parking, but also the Patuxent Female Institute and the Mt. Ida Visitor Center.

When we say that Ellicott City is a jewel that needs to be shined, this is one of the things we're talking about.  Bring the pieces together to form a whole.  Make the region feel bigger without making it bigger.  The Courthouse Expansion with above-ground parking is a start, but making that parking a viable option for Main Street shoppers is the next challenge.

River Walk

Ellicott City is situated on a river, but you need to take a walk to make sure.  We hide the Tiber and turn away from the Patapsco.  Many of the people in the room, myself included, were inspired and excited by the idea of promoting these natural features as additional destinations to an already vibrant downtown.  What if you came down to the bottom of the hill to walk along the river?  Have a picnic?  Play with your dog?  Take your child to the playground?  The space is there, but it is filled with trees and parking lot.

Admittedly, I am unfamiliar with the rules governing railroads and imagine that we are limited in what we can do with the surrounding space, but until those limitations make themselves apparent, I think we need to try to do something more.

The Theatre

There are certain places in Ellicott City of notoriety.  "The Big Lot".  "The Female Institute".  "The Wine Bin Lot".  "The Theatre".  One of the somewhat-cute-but-actually-annoying aspects of Main Street is that we have a theater, featured prominently in the middle of downtown, that does not show movies.  Anyone who has brought a visitor downtown has had this discussion:

"Oh, you have a theater?  That's so cool."
"It doesn't show movies."
"What?  So what does it show?"
"Nothing.  You want to grab some ice cream?"

This is a delicate discussion because the property is owned by Precious Gifts, which is a great Main Street business.  But it doesn't take away from the pent up angst of many in this community that there is unlocked potential with no avenue for getting it out.

There were plenty more ideas last night, but I've run out of time.  Please include your own ideas for Main Street in the comments below.  I have a conflict for the next Workshop on September 26, but plan to be at the wrap-up session on October 10.  I will do what I can to communicate those ideas to TND Planning in the interim.

It is an exciting time to live in this place.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!  I'll be downtown this evening to celebrate my birthday (tomorrow).  Hope to see a number of you there!