Mayor Bill Martin
Bill Martin started his term as Mayor of Havre de Grace with a total of 24 months to accomplish a seemingly 24-page long list of goals.
If his remaining 21 months in office are any indicator, chances are good he’ ll do just that.
One of the youngest Mayors to lead the City by the Bay, Martin isn’ t content with the status quo. He set out to shake things up and from day one began implementing strategies on short-term and long-range goals designed to have immediate and far-reaching results.
A middle school history teacher in Aberdeen, he admits a passion for history and a deep respect for Havre de Grace’ s heritage in particular. He’ s poised to share that history and all the other unique facets of Havre de Grace that earned high praise from such prestigious outlets as “The Washingtonian” and “Smithsonian” magazines.
“All that is quintessential Maryland is right here in Havre de Grace,” Martin avows, casting his eyes toward the promenade with dozens of walkers strolling hand-in-hand or pausing to read historic markers, anglers casting a line, boaters slowing down to avoid a wake and theperpetually busy Promenade Grille nearby. “Maryland crabs, seafood, culture, history, small town appeal, boating, waterfront, museums, art, fishing, outdoor recreation, concerts, events, incredible restaurants – that’ s Havre de Grace,” he says.
But he realizes all of those amenities can’ t be kept secret. He’ s determined to spread the word to an ever-expanding audience. “I want to get people here, get us on the map,” Martin confides. “We are focusing for the next two years on a Maryland state identity because everything you want to find in Maryland you will find in Havre deGrace.”
Once folks get the word, the Mayor wants to ensure they hop off I-95 and enjoy their visit. “You need people in your town, and people come to town because of tourism efforts,” he explains. “If we can encourage even a small percentage of those people to choose Havre de Grace to live, the ripple effect is more businesses coming to town and an expanded demographic profile that attracts the interest of commercial real estate brokers and the businesses they represent.”
Martin realizes that the city already attracts folks, but envisions reaching a broader audience by tweaking a few things with tangible improvements and adding new concepts and ideas to create a more comprehensive experience for visitors and residents, alike. “Change is hard; I’ m not going to say it’ s not,” the Mayor admits, “But for seven years on the council I kept hearing people say, ‘Havre de Grace is so close to greatness, but we’ re aren’t there yet,’ and I think we can get there, together.”
Already Martin has invested in a large tent, emblazoned with Havre de Grace logo icons, and placed it in Hutchins Park. He then shifted the Havre de Grace Farmers’ Market from Pennington Avenue and Washington Street, to the tent, despite an initial round of push back. “I said basically look, it’ s my idea and if it doesn’t work we can shift it back, but at least let’ s try it.” Begrudgingly, the produce stands and stalls shifted to the park and under the tent for the market on Saturday mornings starting at 9 a.m.
“It’ s no longer weather dependent; it’ s rain or shine, every Saturday,”Martin says. “But get there early because more often than not since the move under the tent the vendors are sold out early as more and more folks shop the market and they tell people, and the word spreads.” Quick to point that the project was a team effort that has reaped rewards and praise, he’ s eager to see other uses for the city-owned tent and new events, including the River City Oyster Festival for Havre de Grace.
Martin knows the economic impact events can have on a town, as he played a major role in the planning and execution of the War of 1812 commemoration, driving over 25,000 visitors to Havre de Grace. “He sees the value of driving economic development through both tourism and business, including commercial and industrial development,”explains Havre de Grace’ s Tourism and Marketing Manager Brigitte Peters. “He also sees the need to promote the livability of the town and making residential growth a priority through new home construction and getting a new school built.”
To that end, Martin developed a Salute to Public Safety event, complete with information and displays from local emergency responders, demonstrations, food, prizes and live music throughout. The Safety Day in town and in Hutchins Park at the foot of Congress Avenue also coincided with the 27th Annual Children’ s Art Festival in Tydings Park, featuring arts and crafts, scarecrow making and more through the Havre de Grace Arts Commission.
Hutchins Park will also help Havre de Grace transform the waterfront town for more than the summer season, courtesy of a portable ice rink. “We are hoping to have it installed in November to continue through February 2016,” Martin says. “We need more things for kids to do in town and I really think this will be a nice addition to the city over the winter months.” He also envisions a fundraiser hosted at the rink that would appeal to adults and other activities.
Activities and events aren’t the only tick marks on his rather extensive list of goals. He’ s moving the city toward unique up-lighting of trees along St. John Street from the American Legion to the Five Points. “Eventually I’ d like to see a light show but this is a modest investment for lights guaranteed for 20 years that enables us to change the color of the lights to pink for cancer awareness in October, patriotic colors for Independence Day Celebrations, and so on,” he explains. An added benefit is less energy use courtesy of LED technology.
Up-lighting is one cog in city beautification goals, already self-evident in the “Warriors” Crosswalk that, Martin readily admits was not his idea, but he likes it a great deal. The idea was the brainchild of artist and town employee Ezra Berger to add a bit of art and local flavor rather than run-of-the-mill striping to a crosswalk in need of a touch-up.
Art of a different form will also help guide Martin’ s mission, and he hopes, visitors to the city. Characters with messages have been created by local artist Bill Watson of Elementary Design with a cartoon-feel and a fun message. “They’ re great, Charlie the Crab, Rachel the Rockfish, Doug the Decoy, and my favorite, I admit, Stephen the Seagull,” Martin says chuckling. These characters will in turn help guide visitors to services in town and turn the rather mundane messages of signage into something a bit more interesting – such as pointing out recycling containers, public restrooms, and more.
A message of a more far-reaching impact, however, won’ t be delivered by the seagull, but rather by a baseball – fitting since it will be airing on MASN in game, pre and post-game. The message is loud and clear –“Find Your Maryland in Havre de Grace.”
Martin is eager to share his vision for Havre de Grace’ s future with residents and visitors alike. Recently he developed a 12-member commission to investigate best uses for Tyding’ s Park, including accessibility for special needs individuals. He’ s thrilled with the library construction project, eager to see progress made on the Opera House project, and steering the city in a greener direction courtesy of solar power city buildings and street lights.
“Havre de Grace will be a 21st Century city with centuries of history to share,” Martin says. And with the forward-thinking and daring steps to increase Havre de Grace’ s infrastructure capacity, the city is in the enviable position of being able to accommodate both new housing and news businesses, while other municipalities bemoan moratoriums and turn away shovel-ready projects. “We’ re open for business in Havre de Grace and we’ re always glad you’ re here,”Martin says. I95