The Star Democrat

Property owners have big plans for Port Street

- BY BRAD DRESS

EASTON — Property owners on Port Street all seem to agree on one thing: the street is the future of Easton.

The property owners hold land from the water’s edge at the tip of Easton Point all the way toward Washington Street in downtown Easton — and they’re dreaming big, gearing up for the drastic renovation of an aging street that was once, decades ago, the beating heart of the town.

Though it has since fallen off the map, Port Street is considered by many, in both the private and public sectors in Easton, to be one of the main links to the town’s future. So multiple property owners — from the Talbot County government to nonprofit organizati­ons like Building African American Minds — are invested in rejuvenati­ng this dormant area of Easton.

Mayor Robert Willey said Port Street is one of three locations the town is looking at for serious investment, the other two being Dover Road and Bay Street. He hopes new businesses and developmen­ts on the waterfront street will connect to the rest of Easton.

“I would consider Port Street to be a major entrance into the town of Easton in the very near

future,” Willey said. “If we’re going to entice people to come into the Easton Point area, either for shopping or recreation, we have got to plan a way to get them into the downtown area.”

The largest proposal on Port Street comes from NAIMA Ventures, which plans to build an entire miniature community on the side of Port Street connecting to Washington Street and the downtown area.

NAIMA Ventures is headed by Derick Daly, the founder of BAAM, and his son.The two will spend more than $20 million building a functional community in the Port Street area on nearly three acres of property. That includes 78 affordable housing units stretching from Jowite, Clay and Port streets.

NAIMA also plans to build a small grocery store on Port Street. And Daly recently purchased Mt. Pisgah Church, an old building at 209 Port St., which he plans to renovate and transform into a community hub. Daly wants to provide free meals there, potentiall­y serving 100 people a day. The church will also host a day care center for children aged 1 to 3 as part of the existing Polar Village Ministries day care operation.

On top of that, Daly’s newly opened, tuition-free Polaris Village Academy will be just down the road on Jowite Street, as well as the BAAM athletic center.

Daly said his vision is to build up an affordable community, so residents don’t even need to leave their neihgborho­od to access everything they need.

“You’d be able to live and work right around the corner,” he said. “You can go to Polaris Village day care, and then Polaris Village Academy, all the way up to 8th Grade … and when the kid gets out of school, they can go right to the gym.”

Housing is actually a major component of the Port Street renovation project. Paul Prager, a wealthy businessma­n working to rejuvenate Easton’s old buildings and streets, plans to build 500 housing units on Port Street.

His plans include selfdescri­bed “luxury” houses, including townhomes and condominiu­m units.

Other owners, including the Housing Commission of Talbot County and the Arc Central Chesapeake, are working to build more affordable housing units on the street.

The county’s housing authority successful­ly completed a major project this year at the end of Port Street, near the Exxon gas station. Working with a $2.1 million loan from the state on a $2.6 million project, the county built up nine workforce housing units between two buildings, which used to be part of an old storage complex for fish and oysters.

Don Bibb, the executive director of the housing commission, said the units are 900 square feet each with two bedrooms. Bibb said he would be renting the units soon for $1,187 a month, far lower than the average $1,700 to $1,800 per month price for other homes in Maryland.

The units are also energy efficient, with airy rooms, triple-pane windows, solar panels on the roofs, and an air-recovery heat system.

“This is the first project of this type in Maryland,” he said, referring to the net-zero energy emissions. “Visibly, the project speaks for itself. It’s a quality project.”

The county housing authority has been working on Port Street since 2015. It owns another roughly 20 housing units in the Port Street area and will be converting them into similar workforce homes in the coming years.

Bibb said building workforce housing here is important because Port Street connects the waterfront to the downtown area, and it “has a lot of historical significan­ce to the African American community.”

“You don’t want to come into a neighborho­od like this with all its history and gentrify the neighborho­od,” he said. “Let’s do something better that people are going to remember and enjoy. And I think we’ve got that product right here.”

The Arc has also been exploring a housing plan on Port Street for those who are disabled and lowincome.

Jonathan Rondeau, the president and CEO of Arc Central Chesapeake, said the nonprofit will build a regional headquarte­rs on the street with offices and training spaces, as well as commercial space for small businesses. The organizati­on purchased nearly two acres of property in 2021.

Rondeau estimated he could build up to 20,000 square feet of mixed-use space, which would include both affordable housing and commercial space. A master plan won’t be drafted until 2022, so the president does not have exact details. Still, he said he believes the effort will be a huge project for The Shore.

“Workforce housing is a need,” he said, and “it’s a timely one for both the Arc and the town. We’re excited to be a part of it.”

Smaller projects on Port Street include the installati­on of a boathouse from health and wellness club Evergreen, which was founded in 1993 and is known for its gorgeous evergreen trees.

At 770 Port Street, the Evergreen team is preparing to construct a large boathouse for local rowing clubs on the edge of the four-acre property near the Tred Avon river. The effort could invite thousands of people to large tournament­s and rowing events every year, and would also open up more green space for locals.

The total cost for the project is around $5 million. Freya Farley, the board chair for Evergreen, called it a huge investment for health and wellness.

“We see it as No. 1, benefiting anybody that is moving to the area, particular­ly Port Street,” she said, because it’s giving “beautiful open green space (to) a part of that community.”

Farley said the concept for a boathouse came about in 2016, when Chloe Tong, the executive director of Eastern Shore Community Rowers, pitched the idea. The rowing club uses the waterfront property along with another group, Freedom Rowers.

The boathouse would allow the clubs, with close to 80 rowers between them, to store their 60-foot watercraft inside of a 12,000 square foot airy building, constructe­d from crosslamin­ated timber and overlookin­g the Tred Avon. The project would also culminate in more event space for Evergreen, which plans to host regattas, or largescale rowing competitiv­e tournament­s. Local architect Mitch Hager said the “goal is to have an open, parklike setting” on the property.

Hager will also design a living shoreline to preserve the waterfront area in the future as sea levels are predicted to rise.

“The approach we took is to preserve the legacy of Evergreen and the original owners of the property,” he said, calling it a “pretty big evolution for Evergreen and the property.”

Tong said the boathouse could almost become a cultural center for the wellness community, as the parklike grounds would be open to the public.

“The part for us that (we’re most excited for) is about having space available for community events and organizati­ons, that’s really important to us,” she said. “It’s part of the vision we felt we could offer, and it fits really well with the idea of a boathouse.”

Tim Miller has also been mulling over plans for a slight property renovation on 930 Port St., near the marina.

Miller, a local real estate agent, owns National Premium, a brand of beer that was once famous in Maryland and along the East Coast until it was retired, shortly after switching hands of ownership multiple times. Miller bought the rights for it in 2011 and brews the beer out of Dover, Delaware.

Miller wants to open up a taproom for tourists and visitors, which would allow them to taste the famous National Premium beer and another brand he owns, Wild Goose, while learning about the brand’s history. It would also fit into the whole commercial component that is being pitched near the waterfront of Port Street.

“When people travel, they want to taste beer,” Miller said. “I think it would be a good rallying cry for tourists and locals. It gets people who grow up here to come back here, (and) the whole story about the brewery is fascinatin­g.”

Miller has one of the oldest properties on the street. His grandfathe­r acquired it in 1940, using it as a fertilizer and grain depot. His grandfathe­r also distribute­d petroleum out of the property, with the fuel coming in by barge. His grandfathe­r later sold it to another company, which ran the business into the ground.

Miller bought the roughly one-acre property in 2001, and he plans to keep it in the family for good this time. His taproom could be expanded into a larger beer hall or something else.

“There’s a lot of people who say I should make it into a private club,” he said. But the point is, he added, “we can do a variety of things here.”

Other property owners — Easton Point Marina and the owner of Bailey Marine Constructi­on — are poised to sell their property to Prager, which would fold their property into his commercial and luxury housing vision. Others, including The

Boathouse, are not envisionin­g a drastic renovation of their property on Port Street.

Pep Up, at the end of Port Street, did not answer repeated calls for comment on this story.

None of these projects have won town approval yet, and when concept plans and planning documents are developed, they will go in front of the planning commission and town council for approval. But Easton is granting the go-ahead for many of the property owners, encouragin­g them to invest in Port Street and revitalize the dormant area.

The town of Easton itself also is heavily invested in Port Street. News broke last spring when the town announced it was purchasing the property of Southern States, an oil and gas distributo­r located at 801 Port St.

Throughout the next 12 months, Easton will start up work on the property, hoping to build up its waterfront park. Currently, eight acres of parkland is open to the public, with benches and trees along the Tred Avon, but the town plans to move the county boat ramp to the area and create a kayak launch space, while also building up an amphitheat­er and more open, green space for visitors.

It’s unclear how much the project would cost, but the town hopes to tap into funds from the federal Build Back Better infrastruc­ture bill passed by the U.S. Congress.

Easton does face one obstacle from Vulcan, a constructi­on material supplier at 879 Port St.The company holds vital property that the town will need in order to truly open up its park to meet its grand vision.

Negotiatio­ns are ongoing, according to the town, but seem to have stalled.

The mayor said he is confident Vulcan will move once they find a suitable location for the company. But in a statement, a spokespers­on for Vulcan said they have no plans to relocate.

“We have not received any kind of offer from the city or the county to purchase our sales yard in Easton,” the spokespers­on said. “Our plan is to continue to be a supportive partner of the community and make valuable building materials available to our customers for many years to come.”

Easton has met other success. The town has almost officially acquired Flood Avenue from the county, which would give them more property and another road into Port Street.

The town is also connecting the rails-to-trails hiking trail to Port Street, as part of its years-long effort to extend and improve the path.

Talbot County, which owns 925 Port St., a house dating back to the 1790s, is also considerin­g restoring the old home. While the county declined to speak about its exact plans, officials commission­ed a research study from local historian Priscilla Morris a few years ago in order to better inform their decision.They could transform the house, which began as a tavern, into a museum.

Easton residents have been calling for the resurrecti­on of Port Street since the mid-20th Century, when it fell into disrepair and disuse after automobile­s and highways wrestled away the importance of Easton Point’s harbor.

Modern-day plans for restoring the street got off the ground in 2013, when the town establishe­d the Easton Economic Developmen­t Corporatio­n. The EEDC’s largest goal is the renovation of Port Street.

The master plan for the street was adopted in 2017 by the town of Easton, essentiall­y a rough draft blueprint for developing Easton Point. The master plan, while not final, calls for millions of dollars in project costs, including: a civic center, a boutique hotel, a marine environmen­tal center, a seafood center, a restaurant and a cultural center. None of those have been officially proposed today.

The small area master plan says it would be a priority to redevelop the street as a public-private partnershi­p to save costs, and it suggested creating the area as a “special taxing district,” which means the town would collect additional property taxes from residents in the area to fund the area’s redevelopm­ent.

Still, the EEDC is working closely with all the property owners and will likely draft another, updated plan in the years to come.

Residents have questioned what is happening with Port Street and whether it is still occurring, but Easton remains committed to renovating the area.

In a sign that progress is being made, Easton officially turned Port Street into a mixed-use waterfront district in preparatio­n for the redevelopm­ent of the area.

All of the projects, though divided up between multiple property owners and far from completion, are ultimately exciting for the EEDC, which has envisioned the restoratio­n of Port Street since its inception — nearly a decade ago now.

“It’s incredibly vital that we do it and do it well,” said Tracy Ward, the executive director of the EEDC. “This project will be here long after everyone is gone, and we want it to last and be beautiful and welcoming.”

 ?? PHOTO BY BRAD DRESS ?? A view of Port Street as it exists today.
PHOTO BY BRAD DRESS A view of Port Street as it exists today.
 ?? PHOTO BY BRAD DRESS ?? NAIMA has plans to convert this old church on Port Street into a community, day care center and kitchen.
PHOTO BY BRAD DRESS NAIMA has plans to convert this old church on Port Street into a community, day care center and kitchen.
 ?? PHOTO BY BRAD DRESS ?? Talbot County Housing Authority built nine workforce housing units at the end of Port Street.
PHOTO BY BRAD DRESS Talbot County Housing Authority built nine workforce housing units at the end of Port Street.

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