Maryland local leaders gather to discuss revitalization

MML panelistsMayor Tracy Gant, Mayor David Gysberts, Commissioner Susan Burdette and Council President Jake Day discuss their strategies for revitalization during a reception at the Maryland Municipal League Summer Convention.

Over 45 Maryland local leaders, including members of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, gathered on Sunday, June 8 to share their revitalization successes and challenges during a reception at the Maryland Municipal League Summer Convention in Ocean City, MD. Smart Growth America and 1000 Friends of Maryland cosponsored the event.

Revitalization is a priority for many Maryland communities, as former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening pointed out during opening remarks at the reception. Governor Glendening explained that, “[t]o make your community economically competitive in a knowledge based economy, you must retain seniors and attract millennials. To do this, you need a sense of place. There are many exciting revitalization efforts all around the State of Maryland that are being led by our local leaders.”

During the event, Mayors David Gysberts of Hagerstown and Tracy Gant of Edmonston, Commissioner Susan Burdette of Bel Air, and Council President Jake Day of Salisbury, all of whom are Advisory Board members for the Maryland Chapter of the Local Leaders Council, articulated how each of their unique communities is approaching revitalization.

Mayor Tracy Gant described how Edmonston, which is located in a low-lying area in the Washington, DC region and is prone to frequent flooding, has used environmental initiatives to become more attractive to new residents. The Town capitalized on a much-needed update to the town’s main roadway to convert the road into Maryland’s first Green Street, adding bike lanes and wider sidewalks in the process. Gant explained that, “all of our streets needed to be redone, so we decided to do a green and Complete Street.”

These improvements have made Edmonston more sustainable, walkable and safe. Now, 90 percent of rainwater that reaches the street is treated through permeable pavement and rain gardens before it reaches the Anacostia River. “Our bikelanes are saving our river,” said Gant.

Mayor David Gysberts talked about how relocating the University System of Maryland in downtown Hagerstown into vacant buildings has helped to spur revitalization. “In Hagerstown we are trying to take a liability and turn it into an asset. It is great to see old buildings put to new use as a public service to the community,” said Mayor Gysberts. “We are working to bring about the type of change that we know is possible, but that there isn’t the confidence for within the private sector.”

Commissioner Susan Burdette described how sustainability and health underpin many of Bel Air’s revitalization efforts. One current project is the Armory Marketplace, the conversion of a garage into a commercial incubator space with a year-round farmer’s market and art gallery. “We want to ensure the sustainability of Bel Air for future generations,” explained Burdette.

Council President Jake Day emphasized that many of Salisbury’s revitalization efforts revolve around retaining young graduates of Salisbury University, which is located only a mile and half from Salisbury’s downtown. “We have a factory pumping out young minds: Salisbury University,” explained Council President Day. “So the question is not about whether they will come to Salisbury, but about what we are willing to do to keep them here.”

Council President Day pointed out that Salisbury is seeing major results from these efforts. In the past 13 months, the number of restaurants in the community’s downtown has increased from 4 to 12, with several more on the way. Of these results, Day explains, “[w]e have to believe in ourselves. We have a vision and we are not going to stop aspiring to be better.”

During the event all four speakers emphasized the importance of working with the public to unlock community potential. “Everything we do is with a large group of citizens,” emphasized Commissioner Burdette.

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