Mayor Grim not happy with Canal Place leadership

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

September 25, 2013, Greg Larry, Cumberland Times-News

 

CUMBERLAND — Mayor Brian Grim expressed frustration with the Canal Place leadership Tuesday based on what he sees as a continuing pattern of Canal Place blaming the city and county for the tourism center’s financial problems.

“I am very frustrated by, and disappointed by, the leadership of Canal Place right now,” said Grim in an interview with the Times-News.

The Canal Place Preservation & Development Authority announced last week that it expects to lose $27,000 in fiscal 2014, while projecting deeper loses of around $100,000 in fiscal 2015.

“They are placing so much blame on the city and the county, when in fact the city and the county have been supporters of Canal Place all along,” said Grim.

Canal Place officials have been unhappy that the city and county have decided to phase out all funding to the tourism hub coming from a revenue source that the local governments collect called the hotel/motel tax.

Currently in its fifth year of receiving hotel/motel tax dollars, Canal Place is scheduled to receive no further funding from that source beginning in fiscal 2015.

“That money went toward upkeep for the grounds both inside and out. It does not go toward salaries,” said Dee Dee Ritchie, executive director of the authority.

Both the city and county have pushed for Canal Place to become more self-sufficient and create alternate sources of revenue for its operation.

“We have never said the county and the city have not been good partners. We work really well with the city,” said Ritchie.

In past years, Canal Place has received as much as $100,000 in hotel/motel tax revenue.

Despite the Fairfield Inn and Suites being located on the 11-acre parcel owned by Canal Place, the tourism center will receive none of the hotel/motel tax dollars collected from the hotel.

“They (Canal Place) are always welcome to compete for hotel/motel tax dollars. We have not closed the door,” said Grim.

The city annually invites all nonprofit entities that wish to receive a portion of the hotel/motel tax revenue to come to City Hall and make a presentation of their needs and request a dollar figure they hope to be awarded.

This July the city made available $60,000 that was subsequently split between 16 nonprofits that vied for the funds.

Ritchie is frustrated that they would have to compete when a large source of hotel/motel revenue for the local governments is located on Canal Place property.

“If not for the state (which owns Canal Place), the Fairfield would not be there. The state bought that parcel and removed dilapidated houses and toxic waste,” said Ritchie.

The state made the land attractive for the Fairfield to build there, said Ritchie.

Grim produced a letter from then Mayor Lee Fiedler’s original granting of three years of hotel/motel funds. A second letter showed where the Grim administration extended the funding for two more years.

The letter from the Grim administration said that the city would cease funding in fiscal 2015.

“They were aware of our intentions,” said Grim.

Grim also said that the city alloted $100,000 in bond funds to Canal Place this year.

“The city is continuing to give money in 2014. So while there is a shortfall, and the city is giving money, you can’t blame the city for not giving you money when you are actually receiving it that same fiscal year. The pieces right now just don’t add up,” said Grim.

However, Ritchie says the $100,000 can only be used to help in developing the farmers market at Canal Place.

“The $100,000 was to go to the city to create a downtown farmers market. We got it because the city couldn’t use it. They wanted to do a city market but the location they wanted was privately owned,” said Ritchie.

“I thank (Councilman) Nick Scarpelli for that funding. He pushed hard for it,” said Ritchie.

Mike McKay, president of the Allegany County Commission, and Grim both received formal letters from Canal Place asking that the hotel/motel tax funding be restored.

McKay said he will make his formal response public before a scheduled Oct. 3 meeting with Canal Place and the District 1 legislative delegation.

Canal Place called the meeting, which will be at the Allegany Museum at 4:30 p.m., to enlist the delegation’s help in acquiring increased state funding.

“I did receive the letter. My reaction is, again, frustration that the blame is being placed on the city and the county once again for the financial problems of Canal Place,” said Grim.

Ritchie is skeptical that Canal Place can stand on its own.

“We may never be able to be fully self-sufficient. We can’t charge exorbitant rents in this area in this economy,” said Ritchie.

Grim was asked about the future of Canal Place.

“I don’t want to see it close its doors. It’s an important part of the downtown,” said Grim.

Greg Larry can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ­