Meeting focuses on city center's future

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Business owners discuss volunteers, applaud increased police presence

Cumberland Times-News, August 16, 2012

Matthew Bieniek

CUMBERLAND — Downtown residents and business owners applauded the increased police presence on the pedestrian mall and began discussing ways to make Cumberland’s city center more vibrant.

About 45 business owners and residents showed up for the Thursday evening meeting, which followed up on a July 18 meeting which drew 150 people.

The first meeting focused on problems that might be keeping people away from the mall — loitering, panhandling, foul language and attire that left little to the imagination.

And while those topics were discussed Thursday, the discussion turned to longer-term solutions to bring more people downtown.

“This is a meeting about what’s happened and where we need to go next,” said Downtown Manager Ed Mullaney, who facilitated both meetings.

“One of the things we need to be doing ... is have people with T-shirts or buttons labeled ‘Ask Me,’” Betsey Hurwitz-Schwab said.

The idea would be to have volunteers stationed on the mall to answer questions and direct visitors to restaurants and businesses based on what the visitor was looking for, Hurwitz-Schwab said. She got the idea a few weekends ago when she approached some visitors who seemed somewhat lost.

“There are always tourists looking and they have no one to tell them (about downtown),” Hurwitz-Schwab said.

The idea drew applause from the crowd, and Hurwitz-Schwab volunteered to be one of the volunteers. Mullaney asked how many of those present would be willing to put in some time and about 20 people raised their hands.

“An informed visitor is a happy visitor,” said Mullaney. A sign-up sheet for volunteers was passed around before the meeting ended.

Mullaney brought up some pieces of good news. Several downtown buildings have recently been viewed by potential owners and tenants. “I’m feeling an upswing,” he said.

The upswing is based on confidence and a comfort level now existing in the downtown area, much of it created by the increased police presence.

Mullaney’s thanks to the police department brought a hefty round of applause from the group.

Recruiting potential business owners and residents from outside the area could help, said Ernest Gusella, the co-owner of Social Studies Store on Centre Street.

“You have to promote the opportunities here,” Gusella said. Perhaps finding a way to offer start-up or seed money to potential business owners could be a draw, he said.

Bringing a major musical group to the city, even for just a day, could also make a difference, Gusella said.

“The town needs some kind of identity ... some kind of theme for this town,” he said.

Another business owner asked that more efforts be made to make Centre Street more “a part of downtown” by making sure businesses on that street were promoted as well. She felt too much of the focus of downtown promotions was on Baltimore Street.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .