Last summer, the Oakland BASE (Building A Stronger Economy) committee was formed to “strengthen and grow the greater Oakland economy responsibly and sustainably for current and future generations through the coordination of various individuals and private and public entities.” That concept has now evolved into something “much larger,” according to Michelle Ross, Oakland’s business coordinator and Main Street program manager.
“There are now five teams working under the Greater Oakland Business Association (GOBA), which in turn answers to the mayor and town council,” she said.
More than 30 volunteers, including many who do not live in Oakland, have signed up for the teams: Economic Vitality, Promotions/Marketing, Events, Clean & Green, and CityScape. The volunteers were introduced to the team concepts and their specific goals during GOBA’s annual dinner in June.
Ross indicated that a business association typically takes care of a town’s revitalization, but over time, that can be an overwhelming, tiresome task for the members.
“They just get worn out,” she said.
Ross also noted that town officials usually focus on such governmental issues as infrastructure, not retaining and attracting new businesses. In Oakland’s case, however, that all changed when numerous downtown stores starting closing for a wide-range of reasons. Officials, individuals, and various groups expressed their concern and desire to resolve the problem.
“We started with a commercial district walking tour, where we toured all the vacant buildings,” Ross said. “Realtors, other interested people and whoever wanted could come.”
This event, which took place last year, led to the Garrett County Board of Realtors receiving a grant from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
“They assessed all of our needs,” Ross said about AIA, “and then sent a team (to Oakland), based on those needs, to come up with a plan for revitalization.”
Various Oakland stakeholders then started working together to find solutions. In addition, national and state Main Street program officials recently came up with new approaches to revitalization, Ross noted.
Fast forward to the recent GOBA dinner, where the five teams were formed.
“There were certain things that the teams were given, because we had grant funds for them and priorities from the town,” Ross said. “Other things they could just come up with.”
She added that having diverse members is beneficial.
“It allows you to have new ideas, different ideas, not the same old things,” she said. “That’s part of the importance, just getting different people’s perspectives.”
The teams began meeting two weeks ago. Clean & Green members were scheduled to meet at City Hall this morning, Thursday, Aug. 3.
“They have a Make Maryland Beautiful grant to use for new planters and hanging baskets,” Ross said. “And we received Program Open Space money for a dog park in Oakland.”
Team leaders will give update reports at GOBA meetings, which are held the third Tuesday of every month. Ross, in turn, will report to the mayor and town council at their sessions.
“This is very multifaceted,” Ross said about the goals for various areas of the town.
One major focus, however, is enticing business owners to open restaurants.
“We would really like to have a cornerstone pub, some kind of family restaurant downtown,” Ross said. “For our downtown to be really strong, we need that cornerstone restaurant.”
To promote business, GOBA and the Town Council are working together. Shane Grady, Grand Central Home Furnishings, donated money for an incentive program.
“We’re in the process of setting up a mini revolving loan fund,” Ross said. “There would be no interest.”
Business owners use could the money for a variety of needs, including replacing a broken freezer, water/sewer issues, signs, and advertising.
For more information about the incentive program or Oakland revitalization efforts, persons are invited to call Ross at (301) 334-2691.