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Infrastructure tops Berlin list heading into busy new year

BERLIN—As 2014 commences infrastructure projects will likely factor prominently going forward in the Town of Berlin if for no other reason than because so many projects and initiatives had already begun as 2013 drew t a close.
For example, Councilmember Lisa Hall reported there had been lots of activity by State Highway Administration officials examining the intersection of U.S. 113 and Bay Street, the scene of a tragic traffic accident in November. The fatal accident created a rare public-private partnership of advocacy that spurred neighbors, town officials and state politicians to seek pedestrian safety improvements as close to immediately as government can perform.
Based on what she had observed, Hall, who has been closely monitoring the situation along with a special committee appointed by Mayor Gee Williams, predicted installing a pedestrian crosswalk or count-down clock would be a priority as soon as practical.
There are other infrastructure projects that could materialize in 2014 simply because town officials began the process for facilitating them as early as it was possible.
For example, over the course of various town council meetings during 2013, officials reported they were seeking the funding early so the town would be in a better position for final decisions that are anticipated to be made in 2014. If that strategy proves successful the conclusion of the federal- and state-level decision making processes will hopefully coincide with the planned start of the town-level projects.
Included among the grants officials had discussed applying for were projects to renovate the tennis courts in Stephen Decatur Park, continuing the refreshing of the town’s aging building facades, and renovating the Visitor Center.
Deputy Administrator Mary Bohlen predicted town officials would likely continue making water management improvements through the new storm water utility. Infrastructure projects that will likely start in 2014 would be renovations of the water drainage systems on Flower and Williams streets, including replacing aged or insufficiently sized culverts or drainage pipes.
Officials are also hoping for a positive result on the town’s application for a grant to renovate the tennis courts in Stephen Decatur Park. The project would involve a complete removal and replacement of the existing courts, if approved, Bohlen said.
In response to a concern raised by Councilmember Dean Burrell during a recent council meeting, Bohlen said officials would be exploring the possibility of constructing a permanent restroom facility at Stephen Decatur Park as well.
But drainage ways and structures will not be the only things officials will be building in 2014. Economic and Development Director Michael Day seems to be gearing up for an aggressive brand building and marketing campaign for the Berlin business sector in the new year.
“Look for more events than in 2013, he said in a recent interview.
Day discussed plans to decouple some of the town’s scheduled events, which had coincided with Second Friday Art Stroll, such as the Bathtub Races, May Day Play Day, High Heel Race and Brown Box Theatre’s street performance of Shakespeare. The plan is to schedule those activities as separate stand-alone events in 2014, he said.
Then there are two events officials will consider whether or not to continue to sponsor next year—the Heritage Festival and the International Day Festival. Both events competed with several major events in nearby towns in 2013, including Firefly Music Festival in Delaware, the Delmarva Chicken Festival in Snow Hill and the Dew Tour in Ocean City. The results were that the Berlin events did not appear to create their own strong enough draws to compensate for the competing activities, and that is apparently going to be a factor that town officials will weigh when deciding whether to continue the events, based on the tone of Day’s comments.
The Arts and Entertainment Committee will continue into 2014 and its members are expected to continue their efforts to increase the visibility of the downtown business district. Committee members will be more active with working with town merchants to help increase publicity, Day said.
He added that as the year begins Berlin Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director Joya Canfield and the town’s Main Street Coordinator Megan Houston will be working in tandem to continue the Victorian Main Street branding initiative. Meanwhile, Day is hoping to breathe new life into the Visitor Center space. Possibilities include continuing to rent out artists’ studios in the rear while enhancing the retail space in the front.
By the way, studio booths can be rented for $300 per month, which includes utility costs, he said.