Officials Pin Hopes on Downtown Mall Redesign

Published: April 8, 2019

CUMBERLAND — Officials hope the new City Center design plans, once implemented, will ultimately increase investment and reduce crime.

The plans, called “Reimagine Cumberland’s Historic City Center,” are contained in an 82-page streetscape design and report compiled by William Cochran and his wife Teresa, owners of Frederick-based Cochran Studios.

“Cumberland’s Historic City Center is a national treasure, a collection of large, multi-story mid-19th and 20th century commercial and residential buildings that is almost unique in the nation,” Cochran’s report says.

The plans were unanimously approved last Tuesday by the mayor and City Council.

Cochran’s design report for work above ground must now be incorporated into the master plan being developed the EADS Group. The master plan includes the below-ground work required for replacing aging utility lines and adding new broadband fiber optic cables.

“Cumberland boasts one of the highest concentrations of listings on the National Register of Historic Places of any small city in the mid-Atlantic region, perhaps the country,” Cochran’s report says. “But it is the quality and sophistication of architectural design and craftsmanship that makes visitors stop and stare. It reflects a taste and sophistication developed during Cumberland’s long run as a leading Maryland city.”

The plans call for reinstalling Baltimore Street running one way from Mechanic Street to George Street. The street was bricked over in 1977 to convert the space to a pedestrian mall.

“The city center will again become the community’s much-used central and ceremonial gathering place,” the report says. “The goal is to create a highly flexible live/work/play environment that showcases the city’s unique character.”

Cochran said the question should not be, “What can we afford to do? But, it should be what is in the city’s highest and best interest? Ultimately the project will increase investment, raise property values, increase the tax base and reduce crime.”

The report includes photos of the City Center dating back to the early 1800s. The report can be viewed on the city’s website

A feature of the plans is a “curbless design that allows a range of project goals, including safety, economic development, support for retail and restaurants, livability, multi-modal use and cultural vitality. A curbless street can be closed for special events or festivals. The lack of curbs allows on-street parking and designated cafe areas to be more easily altered in the future as new restaurants come online.”

Large, permanent concrete planters in the middle of the mall will be removed. The surface will be covered with clay brick pavers placed in a herringbone pattern. The 12-foot motor vehicle and bike lane will be Texas red with the sidewalks a variety of grays. The new street will have 20 parking spaces at various locations.

The design features alternating trees and lamp posts along the mall.

The report refers to the parklet at the corner of Baltimore and Mechanic streets as the “Welcome Parklet.” The current features of that parklet will be removed and replaced with trees and benches. The area will have three London plane and three honey locust trees.

The McCoury Family Stage at the corner of Baltimore and Liberty streets will also be removed. In its place will also be a restive area for trees and benches. Six honey locust trees will be placed there. The area will also feature a vertical waterfall at the rear.

The new design has 36 in-ground planters along Baltimore Street and 30 mobile planters. There will be 56 LED street lamps and three bike racks.

The mall will have a total of 18 benches, three water fountains and 13 trash receptacles.

Public arts is recommended for sides of buildings, such as at Liberty Street and on the side of the former Downtown Dollar building.

Bathrooms have been recommended for the Welcome Parklet. Travelers using the trails would have access and may be drawn to spend some time on the mall.

The type of bathrooms recommended are a single Portland Loo design. The facility is run by solar panels and does not require an attendant. It is partially open at the top and bottom so visitors can be heard and partially seen to prevent loitering.

Adding the restroom is still under consideration. Some features will be included if funding permits.

The total cost of the project is estimated between $5 million and $7.4 million. Officials say half the funding has been secured so far through state and federal grants. They are currently applying for the balance of the funding package and hope to break ground in 2020.

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