Marylanders responded immediately and generously to help historic Ellicott City recover from a devastating flood down Main Street. With the funds raised Preservation Maryland put boots-on-the-ground in the form of a Preservation Resource Center to provide direct, one-on-one technical assistance to the community’s property and business owners.

Renée Novak, leads that effort as Field Director with assistance from Michelle Eshelman, Preservation Associate. In this Q&A between Renée and Michelle, you’ll get a sense of the scope of work and impact Preservation Maryland is having in Ellicott City:

[Michelle Eshelman] Please take a moment to describe a typical day at the Ellicott City Preservation Resource Center?

[Renée Novak] A typical day will usually begin by walking up and down Main Street from the Resource Center’s homebase located in the Howard County Tourism Center. On any given day there’s a flurry of construction and rebuilding activity; from contractors to public works representavies, utility providers, and county officials. By personally and regularly speaking directly with business owners and property owners, we’ve connected with the community, create a rapport, and let them know about the work Preservation Maryland is supporting in the area.

The morning walking inspections are usually followed by several site visits. I meet with building owners, business owners, contractors, and the architects on rebuilding projects. We discuss what work will need to be done on the exterior, interior modifications, and any historic property incentives they would be eligible for.

Back at the desk in the Resource Center, I’m corresponding with as many people as I can, in terms of people setting up meetings, finding out local workshops to attend, and trying to connect local contractors with property owners. Between site visits and correspondence, it’s also vital to be present at the county Historic District Commission (HDC) meetings in the evenings, to keep informed of any preservation design issues that are bubbling up from the community.

[ME] What can business owners and property owners expect from a site visit with Preservation Maryland?

[RN] In the site visits, folks want to know what incentives are available for them to rebuild. Part of my job is to explain these incentives to them. Incentives can range from loans and grants, to local, state, and federal tax incentives. Oftentimes these programs often overlap and intersect with each other, so helping owners coordinate their applications is also important.

Learn more about available incentives at the Resource Center website.

Another piece of my job is to help them navigate the historic district design review process and guide them towards the best preservation practices. Helping them through the process while also working to maintain preservation standards.

Another concern is also how to make the building more flood resistant. Property owners are also exploring ways to incorporate new materials and technology that would make buildings stronger against any future flooding.

[ME] How can business owners work with Preservation Maryland to rebuild?

Ellicott City storefront in the fall of 2016[RN] Everybody is at different stages and different places in their rebuild, which usually means they’re in different financial situations. Because of that, I work to tailor my assistance to fit each rebuild project. In the beginning, it was more of a intense triage of immediate stabilization assistance. Now projects are beginning to have more of a long term scope and plan for their rebuild.

From attending Historic District Commission meetings, hearing concerns, and following up with site visits, I can say that the majority of the owners and businesses want to stay and rebuild. For example, Portalli’s Restaurant suffered extensive interior and structural damage from the flood, and they’re working to stay and rebuild.

No buildings impacted by the July flood have been demolished. The structures are being repaired with consideration to historic design and materials. Preservation Maryland’s work on-the-ground has assisted nearly two dozen businesses and 80,000 square feet of historic buildings in the Main Street historic district.

The HDC is also open to flood mitigation and flood proofing practices for the buildings and is working through how that intersects with historic buildings. I’ve been seeing them work to incorporate that idea with the historic architecture review. I’ve been very impressed with that effort.

[ME] What are the most rewarding aspects of working with Preservation Maryland to aid Ellicott City?

[RN] Probably working with the people, having a chance to make an impact on a major historic district, and the challenge of it. Working on a personal level with the people was something I did working at the Maryland Historical Trust. But working with people on a personal level is an essential part of my job in Ellicott City, as they just went through devastation and work to rebuild. Some of the challenge is also working to uphold and enhance the historic character of these buildings. Working to maintain and preserve the historic character of Main Street is an interesting challenge.

[ME] In terms of preservation and rebuilding efforts, how is Ellicott City progressing?

[RN] Over 90 businesses in Ellicott City were impacted by the flood in July 2016. Preservation Maryland has helped over two dozen businesses in Ellicott City through our recovery efforts. These are businesses that we’ve interacted with, assisted, provided guidance, and helped through this process.

There are a handful of businesses and food establishments open already, and more that are opening every week. There’s also a big push happening for the holiday season. It’s turning into a very dynamic place and I have a feeling it’s going to come back more resilient, and more dynamic. Unfortunately, of course, there are several businesses that will not be coming back. However, other organizations, like the Ellicott City Partnership, are working hard to maintain and stabilize the economic activity and attract new businesses and tourism back to the area.


Preservation Maryland responded swiftly to the needs of the Ellicott City residents and owners, and calls and concerns from the larger Maryland preservation community to support the rebuilding of Main Street. We’ve made a significant committment to support Ellicott City, and named the recovery one of our Six-to-Fix projects so that we can sustain our efforts through advocacy, volunterism, and advocacy.

If you want to see historic Ellicott City come back to life, as we do, please support the Preservation Resource Center today.