City Orders New Design Plans for Downtown Mall

Published: September 19, 2017

This Times-News file photo shows the former M&T Bank building on the downtown Cumberland pedestrian mall. Renovation plans for the mall include converting the building into a 48-room boutique hotel.

CUMBERLAND — The Cumberland mayor and City Council are moving forward on plans to redesign the downtown pedestrian mall, which include opening the mall to vehicular traffic.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to accept a proposal from EADS Group Inc., an engineering and surveying firm, to create designs and analyze the cost of renovating the downtown mall. The price tag for the engineering study will be $301,678.53 to be paid for by the city.

The plans include opening the east end of the mall to one-way vehicular traffic flowing from George Street to Centre Street. The west end would be opened for one-way traffic flowing from Mechanic Street to Liberty Street. The plan may also include a 9-foot-wide two-lane bicycle path. The pedestrian area in front of the Baltimore Street Grill would remain unchanged.

Cumberland Mayor Brian Grim said the final look of the mall is likely to undergo further adjustments.

“Right now we’ve just selected the firm to do the (design) work,” said Grim. “As far as the end product, we will be looking at all the possibilities. The plans will include details that will help us make the end decision.”

Jeff Rhodes, city administrator, said badly needed upgrades to the mall’s underground cable and wiring, as well as water and sewer lines, have also been a motivating factor when considering the renovations.

“A lot of folks focus on the opening up the street (to vehicles),” said Rhodes. “We want to get the utilities in place as well. The plans will allow us to evaluate the infrastructure and the costs for the entire project.”

The mall was originally open to vehicular traffic — via the extension of Baltimore Street — from Mechanic Street to George Street. However, the mall was “bricked over” in 1977 in favor of a pedestrian mall. Over the years, some officials and analysts felt reintroducing vehicular traffic was preferred.

The most recent recommendation to open the mall to traffic came from the Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore-based economic development firm that studied the mall in 2016.

Adding to the interest in opening the east end of the mall are plans to add a boutique hotel in the former M&T Bank building.

The Cumberland Economic Development Corp. announced early this year the allocation of $500,000 in Maryland’s 2018 capital budget to assist with the downtown renovations. The money will be used by the CEDC for the planned boutique hotel.

Gov. Larry Hogan, along with the members of the Western Maryland Legislative Delegation, visited the former M&T Bank building during a visit to Cumberland in the fall of 2016.

Rhodes, who also sits on the CEDC board, said plans for the boutique hotel remain intact.

“It is still alive,” said Rhodes. “Some of the players involved have moved around a little bit, but we still really hope to get that done.”

Current plans for the hotel include 48 rooms and a fitness center. The hotel will feature a walk-through to the adjacent Allegany College of Maryland Culinaire Café and Gateway Center. The hotel is expected to provide training opportunities for Allegany College of Maryland students in the hospitality curriculum.

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