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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Can Day duplicate his Berlin success again in Snow Hill?

(July 9, 2015) When Berlin became “America’s Coolest Small Town” last year, many people pointed to Economic and Community Development Director Michael Day as a key figure in the town’s resurgence.
Day, who attempted to retire in December, was recently tapped by Snow Hill for a similar role, and expectations are high that the town, in time, could enjoy a similar renaissance.
Admittedly, it wasn’t an easy sell.
“The mayor called me and asked me to come and help him,” Day said. “I told him I’m retired and don’t want to work.”
Eventually, Snow Hill Mayor Charlie Dorman convinced Day to meet with the town manager, and Day agreed to come on as an economic development consultant.
“I said I’m not going to be an employee and I’ll work my own hours, but I’ll get the job done,” he said. “I see potential and I’m excited about having another challenge.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he added.
The last time Day worked part-time was more than a decade ago, when he shared economic development duties in both Berlin and Pocomoke.
“That was a challenge,” he said. “It was fun in a lot of ways, but I was hampered because it was part-time. This won’t be easier, but it might be easier on my psyche because I’m not doing two big projects. I’m concentrating on Snow Hill and I’m going to stick to that.”
The potential of Snow Hill, Day said, lies in the outdoor recreation opportunities and the town’s location along the Pocomoke River.
“The river is gold,” Day said. “Snow Hill is also and art and entertainment district, and it fits the mold of an art and entertainment district a lot better than other places because of the empty storefronts, the empty properties, the less expensive rents and the natural beauty of the place. Artists would be attracted to that.
“While Berlin is hip and it’s a great place, there’s just no place to put an artist,” Day added. “There’s no space in Berlin for a studio.”
Day said there are 17 empty storefronts in Snow Hill, meaning the potential to move in new business is both ample – and cheap. The architectural potential, he said, is also great.
“Berlin has a lot of neat buildings and a lot of neat architecture, but when you walk around here and look, there’s so much more detail that’s been preserved through the years,” Day said. “Berlin burned down and they rebuilt it with brick, so there wasn’t a lot of that detail put in.
“When you drive around and see the homes here, some of them are pretty spectacular. They need a lot of work, so that will be a challenge, but with the façade program and things like that I think we can do something.”
What Day brings, at least according to him, is more than a decade’s worth of contacts in Berlin, as well as an expert knowledge of where and how to find funding – if it’s available.
“That’s one of the problems now,” he said. “Funding has become very narrow and the competition has increased dramatically. Kids and health, you can find money a lot easier than brick and mortar projects. It used to be you could find money to pay my salary.”
At least a portion of Day’s pay will come from the office of Worcester County Economic Development Director Bill Badger, who’s office is in Snow Hill.
“I’m thrilled that one, Snow Hill reached out to Michael, and two, Michael accepted,” Badger said. “Michael has a great reputation and a great track record, and I think it’s exactly what Snow Hill needs.”
Badger said Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Secretary Ken Holt recently took a walking tour of Snow Hill and his department is fully engaged in helping pay for at least a portion of the town’s revitalization.
“I think the key to Michael’s success is political support, which I think he has, the support of the merchants and the leaders here in Snow Hill, and he also needs money to work with,” Badger said. “I think there’s momentum to put all those things in place, and that’s a great blueprint for success. I’m really excited.”
The danger, Badger said, is in thinking the town will turn around overnight, or that Snow Hill will eventually become Berlin 2.0.
“Snow Hill is not Berlin,” Badger said. “Snow Hill doesn’t enjoy being eight miles from Ocean City, where eight million people go visit every year. Michael is going to understand that. He can’t make Snow Hill into Berlin. What he can do is figure out what worked in Berlin and what will work in Snow Hill.
“It’s not going to be a one size fits all,” Badger added. “It’s got to be the right size for what the market is in Snow Hill, and he knows that.”
Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger, who often shares much of the credit and acclaim for Berlin’s success with Day, also has an office in downtown Snow Hill.
Challenger said she and Day formed a strong partnership while working on revitalizing Berlin.
“I’m very excited to be working with Michael Day here in Snow Hill,” she said. “Michael takes a very practical and pragmatic approach, he’s able to be creative and look at things from a different perspective and he’s very good at honing in on strengths of the town, its resources and its citizens. He’s known and respected across the state for his successes in Berlin, and Michael plans on bringing those same successes to Snow Hill. The town is very fortunate to have him.”
The tourism office, Challenger said, will help with cooperative advertising and attempt to bring state tourism resources.  
One of the biggest things Day is stressing in Snow Hill is patience. In Berlin, the town operated under the rules of the Maryland Main Street Program, which works to revitalize historic districts and offers connections funding sources, for several years before applying to become a designated Main Street district.
“We ran the program for three years before we applied for it, and that just sealed the deal as far as the state went and we got the organization award the first year we were a Main Street program,” Day said. “Getting the designation isn’t the key to the whole thing – working the program is the key.”
Day recently met with state officials who agreed that giving Snow Hill a Main Street designation was “putting the cart before the horse.”
“We’re going to do the program before we go after the designation,” he said. “That’s my plan.”
Day said he’s stayed in touch with Ivy Wells, his successor in Berlin, and the pair has talked about a partnership between the two towns.
“We’ve got all this outdoor recreation and the river, and they’ve got all the shopping,” he said. “I want to get people from the Ocean City area and Berlin over here to enjoy the river and kayaking and canoeing, and all the nature that surrounds us here. They’ve got to go through Berlin to get here, and they’ve got to go back through Berlin to get back.”
Ann Coates, owner of Bishop’s Stock Fine Art, Craft & Wine, knows a thing or two about Snow Hill and typifies the independent spirit that stretches across the downtown district.
Along with running one of the longest-tenured shops in the downtown area, she’s helped run Snow Hill’s Arts of the River First Fridays for years.  
In the dozen years that she’s been in business, Coates said, she’s paid local artists nearly $700,000 in commission.
She also underscored the notion that the Snow Hill will never be the second coming of Berlin. As she sees it, the first thing Snow Hill needs is improvements in infrastructure.
“Buildings should be brought to a standard where people would want to rent or be interested in buying,” Coates said. “I think the thing should be, what would help the community be a quantifiable and qualifiable environment for people to live here. I don’t think we’re about T-shirt shops or stores.”
Coates suggested that the town could use a great coffee shop, a craft distillery that use local products, or a single specialized clothing store.
“We don’t need a TaDa or a Nest,” she said, referring to two popular shops in Berlin. “We want people to come and enjoy what we have, but a lot of people that come just say they enjoy the small town experience.”