Known as “The Heart of Harford” for its position as the Harford County seat, Bel Air, Maryland, offers good schools, charming history and a lively downtown. In particular, that downtown district is the product of local organizers’ hard work and genuine connection to the community. With more than a decade of work in service to the community, the Bel Air Downtown Alliance shows that a Main Street development strategy is most effective when it evolves with the community.
The Bel Air Downtown Alliance has its roots in a task force started by the town to study the local business market. From 1999 to 2001, the Bel Air Downtown Task Force worked to identify business types and locations that were able to succeed in Bel Air. Using the takeaways from this Market Study, the task force then evolved into the Bel Air Downtown Revitalization Alliance. At that point, the organization focused restoring Main Street structures and façades, including the historic Armory building. The castle-like building previously housed the local National Guard unit and served as a civilian defense headquarters during World War II. Since its revitalization, the Armory has served as a community center, with event spaces and offices, encouraging businesses and visitors to come downtown and buy local.
As the Bel Air Downtown Revitalization Alliance made progress restoring the downtown district, shops, restaurants and other small businesses returned to the neighborhood, bringing jobs and prosperity to the historic community. With the downtown district revitalized, the alliance in 2003 evolved once again to become the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, a title it continues to use today. While revitalization remains important, the organization now focuses more broadly on Main Street development and promotion.
In that vein, the Bel Air Downtown Alliance manages a façade improvement program, which allows property owners and tenants in the downtown business district to apply for funds to support aesthetic improvements to their storefront. The organization has also worked to bring Wayfinding Kiosks to downtown, so visitors can easily gather information about local destinations and activities.
Coming full circle, the alliance revisited its roots in 2016 by conducting another Market Study. Once again, the study found new growth opportunities for downtown Bel Air by identifying target areas for development and ways to improve the downtown experience. Given its history, the Bel Air Downtown Alliance should have no problem responding to the community’s latest needs. As it evolves, this Main Street organization preserves the community as a welcoming place to live, work and visit.
For more information, visit www.belairmaryland.org.
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