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Ball taps real estate pro to explore Ellicott City development options

Michael Smith, a commercial real estate executive who led Montgomery County's bid for Amazon's "HQ2" development, will serve as chairman of a committee exploring creating a community development corporation for Ellicott City. (Adam Bednar)

Michael Smith, a commercial real estate executive who led Montgomery County’s bid for Amazon’s “HQ2” development, will serve as chairman of a committee exploring creating a community development corporation for Ellicott City. (Adam Bednar)

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball chose commercial real estate professional Michael Smith to lead a committee exploring the creation of an Ellicott City community development corporation.

Ball signed an executive order and introduced Smith, who led Montgomery County’s failed bid to land Amazon’s $5 billion “HQ2” project, as chairman during a news conference on Thursday. The Ball administration pitched the formation of a development corporation as part of its proposal to aid the town’s recovery from recent deadly flooding and TO protect it from future deluges.

“(Montgomery County) came in a very close second (in the Amazon selection process), we think, but unfortunately we didn’t win that prize. So, I had some time available, and I thought I’d make those skills available to help my community rebuild itself,” said Smith, who has lived in Ellicott City for two decades.

The development corporation would serve as an economic development group for Ellicott City. As envisioned, the entity’s mission would be reviving and maintaining commercial vibrancy in the historic area. Ellicott City’s Main Street area dates back to its function as a mill town in the 1770s. Over the years the community evolved into a retail hub of almost exclusively small independent businesses.

The committee’s charge includes determining whether Ellicott City requires a community development corporation, and if needed, the best structure for the entity. A recommendation on whether to sanction a development corporation and for the group’s structure is expected by June 1.

The exploratory committee, also introduced on Thursday, consists of 16 members, with representatives including residents, preservationists and business owners.

Community development corporations are common in urban areas of Maryland, particularly in the Baltimore region. The entities often charge a surtax on properties in a designated area to provide services ranging from additional sanitation to security.

Smith provides Howard County’s exploratory committee with more than 30 years experience in creating public-private partnerships to develop mixed-use projects with restaurant and retail tenants.

Until recently he served as former Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett’s development ombudsman. After leaving Montgomery County he recently joined Lantian Development. Smith also worked as a senior vice president at real estate development firm LCOR Inc. and as principal at Centre Associates.

Smith’s departure from Montgomery County, he said after the news conference, followed the election of a new county executive and Amazon’s decision not to choose the county for its East Coast headquarters.

A crew works to repair a retaining wall in Old Ellicott City along a creek in the Tiber River watershed. The town suffered two deadly floods, causing millions of dollars in damage, since the summer of 2016. (Adam Bednar)

A crew works to repair a retaining wall in Old Ellicott City along a creek in the Tiber River watershed. The town suffered two deadly floods, causing millions of dollars in damage, since the summer of 2016. (Adam Bednar)

Ellicott City is still recovering from a deadly flood that swept through the town in May 2018, causing millions of dollars in property damage. It was the second deadly flood to hammer the area since the summer of 2016.

Former County Executive Allan H. Kittleman released a plan in August 2018 to protect the town along the Patapsco River from future flooding. The price for Kittleman’s plan was expected to be roughly $50 million. It also called for the demolition of nearly 5 percent of the buildings in old Ellicott City.

That proposal met with resistance from residents, businesses and preservationists. Opponents of the plan argued it did not involve enough community outreach or thoroughly review alternatives to demolition.

Polling ahead of last year’s election showed the proposal largely unpopular with county residents. In November, Ball, a Democrat who criticized the initial protection plan, defeated Kittleman, a Republican.

Ball debuted his own plan for protecting Ellicott City, dubbed “Safe and Sound,” in December. He pledged to honor offers to buy properties on Main Street made by the previous administration, but said the county will examine alternatives to razing the structures.

The purchase of the properties and the assessment of what to do with the 10 commercial buildings on Main Street — roughly from the Caplan’s building to Maryland Avenue — remains under review, county officials said.


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