Havre de Grace’s Renaissance Takes Foot
Visitors enjoy it. Businesses fuel it. Residents live it. Havre de Grace is coming into its own as both a tourist destination and a thriving city that is truly a great place to live, work, stay and play.
The coordination of business-friendly programs, strategic residential planning and inherent tourist attractions is no coincidence. It is the result of efforts from city government, county government, businesses and tourism representatives like the local merchants, the Economic Advisory Board, Tourism Advisory Board and the local Chamber of Commerce. Havre de Grace has made a commitment to growth and it is reaping the benefits. Garnering accolades from national magazines and websites for its small town charm and attractions, Havre de Grace has made people sit up and take notice of one of Maryland’ s most valuable jewels. It’ s also experiencing a renaissance of sorts. A new library and a major renovation of the historical Opera House are among the projects.
A waterfront town rich in history and architecture, Havre de Grace has a population of just over 13,000. It is home to national businesses like Vulcan and Smucker’ s, as well as to small businesses that have made themselves household names county-wide, including Bomboy Chocolates and Laurrapin Grille. Havre de Grace officials say they are creating a livable area where various businesses and industries can coexist and employees can live, work and play. “An emphasis on arts and environment improves the quality of life,” says Patrick Sypolt, Director of Administration for the city. “Havre de Grace has a quality of life for workers and their families. It has retail space, light industrial and commercial buildings.”
He notes the city, the second oldest industrial park in the state, has a footprint for industry. “But we want to be discovered as a destination and as a place to live,” he says. City officials and council members are very interested in bringing business to the town, which, in turn,
will bring residents. Sypolt says the city is willing to take on some of the risk if a business is willing to invest in the community. “We want to work out any issues that are preventing a potential business from locating here by looking at their needs, and being flexible,” Sypolt says.
The city offers a variety of tax incentives and programs meant to attract businesses, including Enterprise Zone Tax credits, the Tenant Fit-Out Program, Façade Improvement Program and tax credits forlocating within the Arts and Entertainment District. Each of these encourages property improvements within certain guidelines, culminating in rewards of tax credits or grant funding. They are small-business friendly and even arts-friendly for individual artisans. The Arts and Entertainment district provides income tax subtraction, property tax credits and exemption from the Admissions and Amusement taxes for those qualifying artists residing in the district. Individuals who own or rent residential real estate property in Harford County, conduct a business in the A&E district and derive income from work they created and sold in the district are eligible, with certain restrictions.
These incoming businesses will bring new residents to the city. Havre de Grace currently has 6,288 housing units, and Sypolt says it is careful to maintain a balance of single-family dwellings and townhomes. “The age of the McMansion is over. Townhomes are the trend now,” Sypolt says, citing the success of the Bulle Rock community. The community is now half way through its lot development with 1,000 completed. It recently broke ground on two new neighborhoods, to be built by Lennar Homes and Ryan Homes.
Through the support of various boards and community volunteers, Havre de Grace has become home to annual events like Paint the Town Pink for October’ s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. First Fridays in Havre de Grace now attracts between 5,000 and 7,000 people per event, having a huge economic impact on local businesses. The city also has been in the movies, which brings tourists and short-term residents to the area who will eat, shop and play.
“People have a passion for this city, so they volunteer for activities that support the city,” says Brigitte Peters, Havre de Grace Tourism and Marketing Manager. “The people are what make it so nice to be here. They are invested in the community. They attend activities, then they get caught up in them and start volunteering. They listen to history and respect it.” Peters explains that Havre de Grace has layers of history and these people have a stake in its preservation and growth. From the architecture to the Lock House system, the city’ s history is much of its charm.
The 2013 celebration of the commem-oration of the War of 1812 was just the beginning of what the city has managed to do to blend history with today’ s living. Peters notes Havre de Grace has at least one or more residents who served in every war since the War of 1812. Whilethe local high school’ s mascot is the Warrior, she explains, “These people are the true warriors. They embody the meaning of the word.”To honor them, a local artist painted a mural of warriors on the pavement crossing Juniata at Pennington Streets.
Sypolt also emphasizes the city’ s environmental commitment that supports its proximity to the Bay and so many natural resources. Its six parks and open spaces offer active public and community areas for events during the day, as well as evening, thanks to energy efficient LED lighting. Sypolt adds that city buildings are poised to be solar by the end of 2016. By locking in long-term rates with companies that generate solar power, the city will save both energy and money. “It’ s being fiscally responsible to our citizens,” Sypolt says. The local storm water management program supports the city’ s stewardship of natural resources, and the city is expanding its recycling program. “More education is necessary. We need to teach children about recycling early, so they become adults who recycle,”Sypolt says.
Outdoor trails are being expanded to connect communities on the outskirts of the city, making them suitable for walking, biking and golf carts. Water recreational activities such as sailing, power boating and fishing are popular past times, and Sypolt says the city still has about half a dozen watermen living there. Other recreational plans include a synthetic ice rink and the inception of a Crush and Run through the Vulcan quarry.
Perhaps the city’ s biggest undertaking is the renovation of the 145-year-old Opera House. Sypolt and Peters agree it is an additional draw for businesses. “We are able to say, ‘ Start your business in Havre de Grace now, bring in your employees, and in three years we’ ll have a cultural arts center.’ That has an impact,” Peters says. They acknowledge that part of the theater will be available to corporations and non-profit groups for presentations and events.
The Opera House project is in its second year of a three-year endeavor to raise funds and renovate the building to include a 200-seat second-floor theater and a first floor rehearsal room/black box theater. Plans also feature a new atrium that connects the original building to the adjacent Susquehanna Hose Company House No. 2. The renovation will preserve the history of the building while making it state-of-the-art and completely ADA accessible. Officials estimate that the new Opera House will serve over 20,000 patrons and guests each year – six times the current number. The project has been spearheaded by the Community Projects of Havre de Grace, Inc., an Opera House Foundation Committee for fundraising efforts. The project has received $1.8 million in funding from the State of Maryland, Harford County, the City of Havre de Grace and private sources. The fundraising efforts continue with sponsorship, naming and support opportunities, as well as events coordinated by the Opera House Foundation and community volunteers.
Other new additions to the city are a library and a proposed new school to replace the existing Havre de Grace High School, with hope of attracting a magnet program, such as Environmental Science. “Students have already come here to work at the city for on-the-job training in waste water treatment and storm water management,”Sypolt says.
Mary Hastler, CEO of the Harford County Public Library, says the Library’ s new branch there is good for economic development. “Havre de Grace is a destination for many people. We think people will stop at the library and bring their children there when visiting the city with family and friends.” The new library branch will expand to two-and-one-half stories and 20,000 square feet, featuring state-of-the-art technology and a children’ s area called Lafayette’ s Landing. The new branch is scheduled to open in March 2016, and Hastler says it will reflect “what a cool place Havre de Grace is to be.” I95