The Greater Oakland Business Association (GOBA) has launched an ambitious initiative to involve community members who are anxious to help with Oakland revitalization efforts. As a followup to a "Downtown" assessment by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), GOBA is looking to capture the enthusiasm from the many area residents who participated in the study.
AIA is a nonprofit who's mission is to use design to drive positive growth. Representatives visited Oakland, the county seat in November of last year to do an analysis of the downtown area and make recommendations to improve pedestrian flow, identify assets and suggest how to capitalize on existing attributes. The plan discussed such issues as better integration of the town parking lot with the shopping area, featuring underutilized structures and improving the overall aesthetics and market appeal.
*The idea for a focused revitalization effort in Oakland began in early 2016 when several businesses gathered together to plan a workshop featuring AIA. The owners of The Alley, Gary and Tiffany Blackden, coordinated with AIA and through a generous grant from the National Association of REALTORS®, a team representing The Alley, the Garrett County Board of REALTORS®, the Town of Oakland, and GOBA worked with AIA to hold several town meetings which offered citizens and businesses the opportunity to provide input into the future economic direction of the town. The revitalization efforts are currently being coordinated by GOBA and the Town of Oakland’s Main Street Program who are utilizing many of the recommendations provided in the report from AIA.
Since the final presentation, GOBA has taken on the responsibility of following through on project implementation. At their annual meeting in June, GOBA President, Fred Gregg was looking to unify efforts that had become scattered throughout varied groups, yet each had economic development as a common goal. Some groundwork had already been laid to include incentive packages for new and established businesses such as a revolving loan fund. The County Commissioners invested seed money to establish an emergency fund for business owners who may need a more streamlined process to access money to keep their doors open. Oakland has also removed parking meters to make the shopping experience more customer-friendly, improve curb appeal and allow easier snow removal in winter.
The annual meeting was an opportunity for Gregg to establish core volunteer committees that could be put to the task of ushering the AIA plan foreword. Guests in attendance were anxious to sign up and serve on various committees that would showcase each volunteer's talents and expertise. The first collective committee meeting was held this week at Town Hall in Oakland where committee chairs were selected, and members made formal introductions and shared initial thoughts.
Among the newly formed groups is an Economic Vitality Committee, Chaired by Gregg. Adventure Capital will partner with this committee to look into how Oakland could benefit and offer available office space to potential businesses that fit the profile. "Other initiatives we’re looking into included free downtown WiFi, review of ordinances and the possibility of a collective rooftop solar array,” said Gregg. “We will also be conducting a survey to assess what needs local businesses may have that might currently be overlooked. Our committee has a nice diversity of experience and interests that should really benefit our town."
"I'm very excited by this opportunity to work directly with GOBA," explains Mark Stutzman, Engage Mountain Maryland President. "We have seen enormous enthusiasm after launching the Adventure Capital website. Having our county seat's endorsement simply adds leverage as we introduce this idea to potential investors."
Adventure Capital is affiliated with Engage Mountain Maryland (EMM), a nonprofit advocacy organization that focuses on educating Western Marylanders on important issues. "We built this new economic arm of EMM to specifically reach businesses that we feel are a good match for Garrett County," says Eric Robison, EMM Legislative Chair. "Rural economies like ours deserve closer consideration, and we're working hard to bring new business here by capitalizing on our extensive natural assets."
With revitalization efforts in full swing and parallel initiatives to attract new business, Garrett County looks to be headed in the right direction. "There's an energy that's palpable," says Stutzman. "Everyone I talk to lately is involved in something and offering to help in ways to improve our economy. It is in the spirit of an actual renaissance." The GOBA committees will be setting their own schedules for followup meetings.
Anyone interested in getting involved can contact the volunteer coordinator, Michelle Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org