CUMBERLAND — Citizens were able to offer ideas for a new look and feel for the downtown pedestrian mall at Saturday’s “Reimagine Cumberland” workshop.
The event was held at the Allegany Arts Council building at 9 N. Centre St., and was sponsored by the Downtown Development Commission and the Cumberland Economic Development Corp.
The city has contracted Cochran Studios of Frederick to oversee a new design for the Historic City Center. William and Teresa Cochran, husband and wife owners of the business, gave a presentation on the latest designs popular in the U.S. and worldwide for public spaces.
William Cochran said a new design for Cumberland’s downtown will still retain the feel and functionality of a pedestrian mall. He said curbs will not be used to maintain a welcoming appeal for pedestrians.
The mall will receive a makeover due to the extensive excavation needed to replace aging below-ground utility lines and install new broadband fiber optics. The project, with replaced utilities and a new design, is expected to cost between $5 million and $7.4 million. The effort will be funded largely by state and federal grants.
The project will also include reinstalling Baltimore Street running one way from Mechanic to George Street. Bicycle travel will be permitted on the rebuilt street.
“You have a once in a lifetime opportunity here,” said William Cochran. “The space you have here is incredible. You probably need to change it anyway, even if the utilities didn’t need replacing. The city center is the most important public space for the community.”
William Cochran said all communities have common threads.
“What makes a city are three things: live, work and play. If you take any one of three things away it is not a city,” he said.
Roughly 80 people attended the event. After a presentation by the couple, those in attendance worked on design ideas by table. The groups at each table discussed what they think works best, and by two-thirds voting margin, they organized their design priorities.
William Cochran said good ideas for malls today include trees that branch out above the second floor to create a canopy and a neutral color for the ground brick work. He said the historic buildings downtown need to be the visual focus.
“The architecture has to be showcased and that is really the thing that can be the economic engine to drive everything,” he said. “I don’t think it is that way today. There are too many things in front of it and it is hard to see.”
Cochran said the current red brick used for the mall base detracts from the architecture. He said a neutral color brick in the right pattern, such as herringbone, creates the best base to complement and highlight the surrounding buildings.
Other design features include walking zones, space for dining, parking pockets, sculptures and murals.
William Cochran said the McCoury Family Stage, at the corner of Liberty and Baltimore streets, will likely be removed in favor of a temporary staging area at another location. He said the current pavilion stage was not the best use of that space.
Doug Schwab, former DelFest Foundation board member, said the McCourys are supportive of whatever works best for the reconfiguration of the space.
Mayor-elect Ray Morriss and his wife Brenda attended the event.
“What I heard was a wonderful presentation of what Baltimore Street can be going forward,” said Ray Morriss. “I think it is critical we get as much input as possible from the public, because that is what it is really for. It’s for the use of the overall community. We need their ideas to get the best design we can.”