Next Friday afternoon at 3PM, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy plans to break ground on a $5 million restoration and repurposing of the old McCord and Brick Row buildings on South Washington Street in Easton. It might be said that it will be the first important building project of the 21st Century for Talbot County, but not necessarily as a result of saving an important historic asset, nor for the cleverness of an creative urban renewal effort. In this particular case, it will be “function” over “form” that makes the new conservation center unique.
The function in this case is the creation of a physical hub for the region’s multitude of conservation organizations to directly and indirectly collaborate with each other for the very first time. That is, in itself, groundbreaking for the Eastern Shore and needs to be celebrated.
The McCord Building plans to provide affordable office and meeting space for a dozen or more other conservation groups with a focus on the Chesapeake Bay region. And with this new common ground, organizations that have at times not always agreed, let alone collaborated with each other, perhaps even to the detriment of the Bay’s health, there is real hope for more coordinated, sophisticated partnerships to respond to the grave environmental threats the Delmarva faces.
Credit for this great new possibility goes to the ESLC and their partner organizations— the names of which remain confidential— for jointly seeing the wisdom and great potential of cohabitation. It is not an instinctive characteristic for any corporation, profit or nonprofit, to seek out housing arrangements with potential rivals. The partners have also seen the benefit of bringing up to fifty professionals to work, shop and eat in downtown Easton.
But a special shoutout must be given to the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy for taking the financial leadership for the Center. The idea of having a land conservation organization, devoted to saving the Shore’s greatest landscapes, raising over $5 million for a blighted former dry cleaning building, clearly does not sit well with some of their land-loving donors. There were also major bumps in the cost of completing the project as a direct result of previously undetected pockets of chlorine and petroleum-based chemicals in the building. A less courageous organization would have folded based on those findings.
But the ESLC has not caved in, but will literally be digging in on Friday for a brighter future for the Chesapeake Bay. It takes a special group of board members and staff to risk their mission and reputation on such a project. And yet, time and time again, the ESLC has shown that kind of leadership from the day they formed in 1990.
The community can show their appreciation on Friday and also by helping close the gap in funding.