Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Manager for Laurel's Historic Main Street?

The Main Street Manager idea is the hot debate around our fair city this weekend. There are strong opinions for and against it. The candidates gave their positions at last Wednesday's forum in two flavors; some were for it and others were "not opposed" to it. I'm not sure how they plan to vote "not opposed" on an ordinance.

I support a Main Street manager for Laurel. But I also strongly believe that the merchants should pay for it. There are just some things that governments are not good at, like managing for-profit commercial endeavors. Giving a government the responsibility for managing a commercial business district is like giving a case of beer and a Corvette to a group of teenagers. It might work out fine, but it's mighty risky for all.

But I'm much more interested in what you think, so I've created another quick survey. It should only take you two minutes and I'll post the results here for all to see.

Click here to take the Main Street Manager survey:


Mike Sarich said...

While there are alot of opinions about the Main Street Manager Program, these are the facts;

Since 1998, the Main Street Maryland program has helped 18 communities throughout the State revitalize downtown areas. Through the program, governments and local businesses have invested more than $74 million on improvement projects that range from new streetlights to new signs to renovated buildings.

The program has resulted in net gains of more than 400 new businesses and 1,800 new jobs. Volunteers have contributed nearly 74,000 hours to the program.

For more information please check out: or

Anonymous said...

I think all of this concentration on Main Street when issues involving the environment, affordable housing and infrastructure are far more pressing. I feel like certain candidates are pressing “issue” who have no real plan for the City.
BRAC and other things are making the Main Street Manager a smaller issue. We are a diverse city, with many, many issues. Why let this, relatively small thing, dominate the debate this election, unless those who are pressing for it wish to cover up their lack of concern or plans for those other issues?

The Finance "Buck"! said...

Major local issues are ignored when citizens’ attention is diverted to (what I feel are) such expensive and frivolous schemes.

Major issues could include: maintaining a clean and nice environment throughout our community, promoting safety by, among other things, strictly enforcing posted speed limits, supporting our local officials in state matters directly affecting Laurel residents and businesses, encouraging partnerships for education between local businesses and local (public and private) schools.

Councilman Sarich said...

Anonymous and Finance make great points. It's true that our City faces major challenges in many sectors. Here is how a Main Street Manager helps address all of your concerns; simple economics.

When a City has a vibrant and wide economic tax base, it means that they collect more in revenue. (I'd be delighted to share the detailed breakdowns with you if you contact me;

The overarching point here is that vibrant businesses provide a robust tax return. Those funds can be used to address trash collection, environmental quality (like the lakes), school programs, senior services, police protection, and a host of other worthy goals we work so hard to provide.

Quite simply the Main Street Manager isn't a distraction from the plan; it is a MAJOR part of the plan. This plan IS a vibrant wide tax base that enables the City to provide services without (as this administration has regrettably resorted to and I've voted against) raising taxes on our homeowners.

You both raise interesting points; however, without stable and expanding revenue streams, no city can provide the services you seek without overly burdening our hard-working homeowners. My goal is to help provide the citizens of my hometown with places they can work and shop near their homes and hearts; historic Main Street.

Sue said...

Revitalizing Main Street will help make Laurel a destination (I know I make the trip to Ellicott City semi-regularly for the cute shopping "experience" and nice restaurants). The results will trickle out into the adjoining business areas N of Main and along the US1 coordior. Sarich has it right...if done right, it will serve to increase the tax revenue for the entire city.


Anonymous said...

Laurie blitz writes:

I AM noticing that the Main Street Manager Program is once again on the books as being "an issue." This is the same program that was presented to us and died over 5 years ago. (So the idea is not the wave of the future nor a new and innovative idea, as it seems to be being presented.) As a business owner on the Street, I do not appreciate the fact that you think we merchants are uninformed about this program; we were made painfully aware of it all those years ago. What we are not being told is what we would have to do if we signed on for the program and then didn't like it. Could we just halt it and stop funding it? How long do we have to fund the program and how much does it cost? Where will the money come from? Who would interview for and decide on the person to be the Main Street Manager and where would he come from? Would it have to be a resident of our city or not?

It has been said that the merchants on Main Street are feeling "neglected" and that we are "unhappy" and "leaving." As a commercial realtor, as well as being a Main Street business owner, I can tell you that every day people are asking for space on Main Street, and there is (until this week) hardly anything available. I, personally, do not feel neglected by this municipality at all. In the past two years Main Street has had much attention paid to it. We have had new sidewalks, new crosswalks, more police presence, flags, planters, funding allocated for historic lighting, and revitalization, as in the Friendship Place Apartment conversion and the beautiful mixed-used building currently being constructed at B and Main, as well as the future Museum Row.

We also have an organization on the street that handles most of the job description given to me by the City of Frostburg, Maryland, when I was being interviewed by them as a Main Street Manager. The Administrative Coordinator of the Laurel Board of Trade develops and distributes marketing and promotional materials, manages and coordinates events (such as the State of Maryland Award winning Main Street Festival, which brings over 100,000 people to our street every year), is a liaison between the municipality and merchants at any time, maintains an information center at our offices located on Main Street complete with U & O permit information, HDC Guidelines, Sign Ordinances, Public Works procedures, and contact information for all City Departments. The Laurel Board of Trade has a committee chair responsible for Grant research and is exploring avenues of joint marketing and statewide marketing on a daily basis. The difference is that the Laurel Board of Trade encompasses ALL of Laurel. If anyone should feel, neglected, it should be the owners of property from the rest of the city.

I urge business owners in Laurel to become more informed about the Laurel Board of Trade by contacting our Administrative Coordinator at (301) 483-0838 or at We are having a networking business forum at the Laurel Pool House on March 15th at 9:30 am--come then and see what we do for our community.

Laurie Blitz

Rick Wilson said...

Larry Eldridge writes:

I am delighted that there is more conversation about the Main Street Program.

One of the major benefits of the Main Street Program is that it is a program with a proven track record of success. 18 Maryland communities and 1700 communities nationwide participate. Some of these communities needed this Program to help them make significant progress in improving their Main Street. Other communities found the program's framework for organizing a coordinated approach to be what was needed for them.

There are not many vacancies on Main Street but there are merchants who are struggling to pay their expenses, waiting for more foot traffic, waiting for promotions and events that will be of benefit to them, waiting for a coordinated approach managed in an objective manner.
Some of these businesses are new to Main Street, some are long established. The article in the Leader on the Laurel Art Center and the competition it faces is an example that says no merchant is immune from the changes in the retail sector. We could have more articles about more businesses who are struggling or decide to take an approach that has been used successfully to improve our chances with the competition.

The Maryland Main Street Managers I have met over the years either work for the municipality (for the first 1-3 years) or for a non-profit organization established to provide oversight to the Manager and the Main Street effort. This nonprofit organization has representatives from the business and residential communities, major business organizations, and the municipal government-this ensures open communication and no conflict of interest.

The salary of the manager is typically paid by the municipality for the first 1-2 years (from City operating funds and/or grants) this gets the Program off the ground until the non-profit organization is operational. The how of selecting the Manager, the credentials desired in a Manager and salary would need to be addressed and this should be done in as open a process as possible. City government typically takes the lead in jump starting the effort to become a Main Street community and they do so because they are representing the community at large and not the needs of a particular entity- again an objective, open process is key!

Below is the information from the Main Street Maryland fact Sheet (it's on the web at:

This fact sheet should answer to many of the questions about the Main Street Program and dispel the misinformation.

Main Street Maryland is a comprehensive downtown revitalization program created in 1998 by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. The program strives to strengthen the economic potential of Maryland's traditional main streets and neighborhoods. Using a competitive process, Main Street Maryland selects communities who have made a commitment to succeed, and helps them improve the economy, appearance and image of their traditional downtown business districts.

To accomplish Main Street goals, the Department has partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Main Street Center, which developed the Main Street approach to downtown revitalization.
Since 1980, the national program has been implemented in more than 1,700 communities nationwide, resulting in net gains of more than 57,000 new businesses and 200,000 new jobs. More than $17 billion cumulatively reinvested in these communities has resulted in a reinvestment ratio of more than $40 for every $1 used to support a local main street program.

Maryland Economic Development Results
Since 1998, the Main Street Maryland program has helped 18 communities throughout the State revitalize downtown areas. Through the program, governments and local businesses have invested more than $74 million on improvement projects that range from new streetlights to new signs to renovated buildings. The program has resulted in net gains of more than 400 new businesses and 1,800 new jobs. Volunteers have contributed nearly 74,000 hours to the program.
(Data from April 2004)

The Main Street Four Point Approach
Main Street Maryland uses the National Main Street Center's Four Point Approach to downtown revitalization, which emphasizes the importance of working simultaneously in the following areas:

Design: Enhancing the physical appearance of the commercial district by rehabilitating historic buildings, encouraging supportive new construction, developing sensitive design management systems, and long-term planning
Organization: Building consensus and cooperation among the many groups and individuals who have a role in the revitalization process
Promotion: Marketing the traditional commercial district's assets to customers, potential investors, new businesses, local citizens and visitors Economic Restructuring: Strengthening the district's existing economic base while finding ways to expand it to meet new opportunities and challenges from outlying development Main Street Maryland and You The Main Street Maryland program is committed to providing a broad range of services to participating communities including:

Manager orientation and training sessions On-site visits to help the community develop and plan for the future On-site design assistance Specialized training on topics specific to downtown businesses Education about State and Federal programs and how to use them Eligibility Criteria Maryland communities meeting the following criteria may apply for participation in the Main Street Maryland program:

A minimum population of 1,000 based on the most recent U.S. Census survey Commitment to employ a program manager for a minimum of three years Commitment to organize and maintain a volunteer board of directors and committees made up of public and private sector individuals Commitment to provide a program budget for a minimum of three years Must be a Designated Neighborhood approved by the State of Maryland Must have a defined central business district with a significant number of historic commercial buildings

Larry Eldridge

Councilman Sarich said...


As you and many others know I have a great deal of respect for you and your positions. (By the way that respect isn't just because you make the best pumpkin pie in the world!) This respect is based on your long history of commitment to my hometown and your desire to see it improved. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I have to call you out on this issue.

When I first met you, were you or were you not in favor of BECOMING Laurel's Main Street Manager? Had you or had you not invested much in training, time, and your characteristic and admirable passion into the benefits of historic preservation and business district enhancement? I believe that's what you told the Frostburg selection group when you applied for their job. Or am I wrong? It's just shocking to me that you're tune has changed so dramatically and so quickly. Has the program changed since you attempted to dedicate your working hours to Frostburg's Main St.?

What's particularly shocking to me about your change of heart, is your pronouncements on what a Main Street Manager would do to the courageous risk-takers who open & operate businesses on Main Street. I'm not going to address them individually, as it might needlessly validate them. Rather, I'll provide you & other concerned citizens with what a Main Street Manager is.

In my opinion, facts not fear, will carry this debate. Needless to say, your curious change of heart, while bewildering, does not diminish my respect for you as an energetic businesswoman, dedicated mother, and true asset to our community.

WHO: Since it’s inception in 1980, 1700 communities nationwide have participated in the Main Street program. 18 communities have joined the Maryland program including Elkton, Havre de Grace, Bel Air, Frostburg, Takoma Park, and Mt.Airy

WHAT: A Main Street Manager is a facilitator and a go-getter. They are specifically trained in bringing groups together. They act as boosters-not bosses-for our historic Main St. business district.

WHY: It’s simple, We are perhaps the most studied, consulted Main Street in the State. While studies are fine, it’s time for action. It’s time for accountability, it’s time for a Main Street Manager!

Where: The, Main Street Manager focuses on Main Street and the surrounding area. Why this focus? First, it’s that big a job. Second, by freeing other staff to work on priorities like the Mall, we can achieve Laurel-wide goals faster.

When: Immediately after the March 20th election, the budget season begins. We will make sure funding is included and ensure the Administration is ready to utilize this asset.

How: A Main Street Manager works either full or part time. They can work out of City Hall or out of local Main Street offices. Look for our Manager to be active in all City events. Simply, it’s time to participate in this proven program.

Mike Sarich
Laurel City Councilman
Ward II

Anonymous said...

Larry Eldridge writes:


First of all thnk you for all of your work and interest in making the blog a useful source of info.

I am glad that you too support a Main Street Manager for Laurel. You state that the merchants should pay for the Manager. I recently spoke to Kevin Baynes, the head of the Maryland Main Street Program. What Mr. Baynes told me is that "typically" the local government funds the Manager position and the majority of the program costs for first few years of the program's existence; the source of funds being operational dollars and/or grant funds. Although the City might pay for the Manager's salary, there is a committee which provides oversight for the Program that has representatives from the business and residential communities and city government. So, the City is using its resources to get the program going but does not own the program- it is a shared responsilbility and the City is not in managing a for-profit endeavor.

Once the program is operational for 1-3 years, a non profit 501 (c) (3) is typically created and that organization takes over the program. The committee mentioned above is the group that usually morphs into this nonprofit.

In the course of getting to the point of establishing a nonprofit, the longer term funding issues are sorted out. What I have learned is that funding can happen in a variety of ways, but typically there is some
sharing- the city's share would decline over time and that portion picked up by "Main Street" would increase. Usually some the nonprofit charges dues to its members or some type of special taxing district is created to cover salary and other program expenses.

Another point I would like to address, is that the Main Street program, although it focuses on one area of Laurel, all of Laurel will derive some through the reinvestment that occurs as the program grows.
When a decision is made to repair a street, one might say that those live or work on that street derive the most benefit, perhaps they do,
but whomever drives on that street also benefits. Do we make those
who live or work on the street to be repaired pay specifically for that repair? It's our collective tax dollars that pay for work such as this. Having a program that benefits Main Street benefits all of Laurel.


Anonymous said...

Laureie Blitz Writes


In response to your epic that addresses me personally, and my personal life and business, which I find inappropriate, I am not against having a Main Street Manager, I am against having to pay for one. The only thing that has changed is that I now own a business on the street that has expenses like all the other business owners here. I don't want additional expenses (especially when the Laurel Board of Trade person covers most of the Main Street Manager duties, anyway). I think it would be wonderful if grant money became available and we could make the Laurel Board of Trade the Main Street Manager and a full-time position!

My business is doing pretty well, but it certainly can be improved upon. But a quote was made saying the businesses are sitting on the street, floundering, just waiting for foot traffic to increase. If someone wants to increase their business, they need to get off the street and advertise to the surrounding areas (Howard County, Anne Arundel County, as well as Prince George's County) and market themselves. The Laurel Board of Trade is contracting for affordable joint marketing opportunities at this very moment.

I thank you for realizing that I do love this community and want to re-pay it for the wonderful life it has provided my family and their business since 1943 (which is, by the way, prospering still without a Main Street Manager) and that I will always do what I believe is the right thing for this community. It is because of this that I must say, also with heavy heart, that shame on you for being a Council person and anyone trying to be a Council person with an agenda that focuses on a 9-block area of the City when Laurel is so much more than just that.

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, one comment on the Main Street Manager Survey sited the revitalization of Main Street, Ellicott City, as an example to follow. They do not have a Main Street Manager.

Laurie Blitz

Anonymous said...

Larry eldridge Responds:

What an intriguing exchange!

Here are some of the issues right below the surface:

- If Main Street is not broken, why fix it? Or, we have always done it this way, so why change?
We can all come up with the right phrase- that really says- nope, no new approaches today, everything is fine, no need to change.
The need is for an organized effort that utilizes a proven model to achieve success. The Main Street Program provides just that! What works very well need not change, I think we would be hard pressed to say that nothing can be improved.

- Are 18 communities in MD and 1700 communities throughout the US wrong in choosing to become Main St communities?
Our Main Street is not in dire straits but there is a lot of potential to make improvements and to work together- the residents and all the business groups and the city government. Do we keep talking about the need for more retail, places to eat and a bakery or do we figure out how to make it happen? Cooperation and collaboration will be considerably more effective over the long term.

Anonymous said...

Laurie Blitz Responds:

Out of the 18 communities in MD that have Main St. Manager Programs in effect, how many can you say are really "destination" cities--Frostburg, Mt. Airy? I don't really go out of my way to visit these cities! I have gone back to Frostburg to see what the program did there, and I really can't "see" any visible difference; Main Street still doesn't have more foot traffic on a daily basis. I didn't notice if they had started the "late night Main Street strolls" one evening a week with entertainment, etc., that many Main Streets have begun, and that is one of the recommendations of the Program, but I don't think many businesses here want to stay open later. And that increased foot traffic is only for one evening a week. The local merchants in Frostburg have mixed opinions about the value of their Main Street Manager Program, some love it and some say they haven't received any benefit from it.

The revitalization of OUR Main Street will occur through marketing to the local area (the tri-county areas, as well as within the City) not from Statewide marketing. I believe the Laurel Board of Trade should be given the opportunity to develop and enhance our economic climate before we buy into the Main Street Maryland Program, because you continue to skirt the issue as to whether or not the merchants will have to pay for the program out of pocket themselves.

I do believe the economic environment can be improved, but I don't necessarily think having a "Manager" is the way to do it, when it can be accomplished in a more cost-effective and less bureaucratic way. I want to market and run my business the way I see fit, and not by an outsider.

Anonymous said...

Jhanna Levin Responds:
The issue was not being skirted. It was my intention (by the way, NOT even close to my entire platform for running) to have the city pay for it initially so that we can all truly see how it will work for us. When it does work, then we can work on grants (my first choice) and as ALL of the businesses on and around Main Street have felt the successes, we can then begin to look for merchant financial support.
Just to set the record straight...although the "9 blocks" are very important, I agree that we do have an entire city with differing needs that need to be addressed. The Main Street Manager topic just got hot, hotter than I expected. I think the police should have also been a HOT issue, and the stance we've been taking with developers, our infrastructure, and the list goes on. I've purposely stayed out of these back and forth commentaries thus far but the nitpicking needs to end. We all want the same end result Laurie.......I just want to take a chance on a proven program ( we have nothing to lose and everything to gain), which by the way is tailor fit to each individual community. And yes, I know Ellicott City doesn't have a Main Street Manager (not sure who said that actually) but Federal Hill does as does Takoma Park.

There are so many other topics that should be thought about as the election draws near......don't let who's going to pay for the Main Street Manager cloud the basic's time for a change....a different approach to how we look at what comes before the City Council.

Jhanna Levin

Anonymous said...

Ms. Blitz's statement is exactly the reason we need a Main Street manager. The Board of Trade may say it represents all, but doesn't. And, it's had years to revitalize Main Street, and has not.

She somehow feels that the new sidewalks are more important than businesses that attract visitors.

Worse, she somehow thinks that the Main Street festival helps Main Street. As many local residents, and many if not most of the businesses will tell you, Main Street Festival day does not attract people who come back and shop,and has become a day to leave town, and/or shut down. The Main Street Festival is an event way past its prime.

We need a NEW approach, and a Main Street Program might be just the thing. Why is Laurel always so afraid to embrace new ideas?

Larry Eldridge said...

Below is a letter to the editor from today's edition of the Leader. This letter does a great job explaining, from the resident's and customer's point of view, some of the key issues facing Main Street.

As a former Main Street merchant and a current property owner I completely agree with Ms. Mima's statements.

Please read this letter to the editor and the other entries about Main Street on this blog.
If we want a more vibrant Main St, we have to help create it by deciding what types of business we want on Main Street and doing the marketing and recruiting of businesses to make it happen.

Saying that Main Street needs special attention is simply acknowledging that this resource is unique, needs to be preserved and enhanced and that it requires a different approach than other areas of the City (just as has been done with creating an Historic District Commission and overlays that are specific to the historic district). Doing so, will also improve the City's image and tax base.

Successful Main Streets are the result of the local government and the business and residential communities working together. The business organizations have both had limited success in improving Main Street and will continue to have limited success until all the groups are working together and with the Mayor and Council.

Once the election is behind us, let's ask the Director of the Maryland Main Street Program to come to a public meeting in Laurel, preferably at City Hall.
This would provide the opportunity to get current information on the Maryland Main Street Program and learn why 18 Maryland communities have chosen to participate in this Program.

Letter to the editor 3/16/2006

"Main Street manager would aid old and new businesses

The March 2 article, "Need for Main Street manager divides candidates," gives the community an idea of the positions of Main Street business owners, as well as the Laurel City Council candidates.
It basically comes down to whether or not one is content with the current business situation of Main Street today. I find it very disheartening that the majority of businesses and current council members, those that represent the voice of the community, are content with Main Street today.
I have lived in Old Town for seven years and have been frustrated by the lack of desirable businesses that have occupied Main Street. I now know why I have seen no changes. Those that represent us see no need for change.
I do not know how one can gauge the vitality of Main Street by the number of empty storefronts alone. The goods or services being offered, behind the storefront, matter most.
I hear my fellow residents resonate my same frustrations. Why do we have to drive to Columbia, Silver Spring, Ellicott City or Savage Mill for a decent bakery, organic food store, or a quaint restaurant? Oliver's and Red Hot & Blue are vital to Main Street, especially now that they are smoke-free. But a few more dining options are needed.
Why not bring these businesses to Main Street, so that we can give our money and loyalty to Old Town? The increase in foot traffic will only increase the profits of the existing businesses.
How nice would it be to one-stop shop, on foot, on Main Street. You could purchase your meat from the Meat Market and bread from a bakery, as opposed to having to drive to the Giant.
If I am frequently hearing these frustrations from my fellow residents, how is it that the City Council is not? They know what the businesses want or don't want, but what about the people who walk, shop and dine Main Street? They have beautified Main Street; now give us a reason to walk it.
Main Street has some great merchants. The Body and Soul store is a great addition to Main Street. Now we need to bring in similar businesses, such as an organic food store, to give people a reason to shop here and help these businesses survive. The market for these types of businesses is here, but without a Main Street manager to make these realizations known, the businesses will not look here and these existing businesses will struggle.
If a Main Street manager has worked in other communities, why not give it a try here. I suppose that we will find out on March 20 if the majority of Old Town is content with Main Street as it stands, or if the majority is hopeful for a change.

Regina Mima

Anonymous said...

I'm new to the area, and frequent Laurel's Main Street (primarily for the meat avaialble in the Meat Market). I've read the blogs and newspaper articles about recent "beautification", but honestly, most of Main Street appears run-down to me, (inside and out) Your love for the city is apparent in your words, but Laurel's Main Street doesn't reflect that passion. A few buildings are truly charming, but most need much more attention then they've received. I'm all in favor of a City Manager to focus on revitalizing a "diamond in the rough" that could generate jobs and tax revenue for a deserving city.

Laurie Blitz said...

I noticed the term "City Manager" -something that more than one person has commented on; I agree that someone to market the City as an entire entity would be invaluable.

As for Mr./Ms. Anoymous who commented about me personally and the Main Street Festival (how very cowardly of you to prefer to be anoymous, but since it's so amusing and such good food for thought I'll comment anyway). If a business can't market itself and make money on the day of the MSF, then the owners don't know anything about marketing or business. And if they choose to close their business or get out of town, then how do they even know if they're getting residual sales during the year from the festival? Sounds like a personal problem to me, and also sounds like someone that can't enjoy a day of festivities, fun and entertainment!
Laurie Blitz