On one of her final days as the Town of Bel Air’s economic development director, Trish Heidenreich was walking through the Armory Marketplace – a collection of former garages behind the town’s iconic Armory building that has been rehabilitated as a business incubator.
Dan Cudone, president and owner of TriState Commercial Realty Corp. in Forest Hill and one of the many people who worked with Heidenreich during her 17-year tenure as economic development director, happened to come out of Harford Artists Gallery, anchor tenant for the Armory Marketplace.
Cudone greeted Heidenreich warmly and praised how she has helped bring life to downtown Bel Air, with more restaurants and retail shops coming to the business district, as well as many visitors for downtown events. He also praised how her department has provided funding to improve the appearance of downtown, such as grants to fix up building facades, and supporting initiatives to place floral arrangements along Main Street.
Cudone is a founding member of the board of the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit organization formed in 2001 to promote economic development downtown. The Alliance partners with the town government on economic development initiatives, a partnership forged through the Main Street Maryland Program. Bel Air, the Harford County seat known as “The Heart of Harford,” has been designated as a Main Street Maryland community.
“You can see a lot of changes that have taken place,” Cudone said of downtown.
Heidenreich retired as economic development director last month. She began working for the town in October of 2006, and her last day was March 31. She sat in her office in the headquarters of the town’s Economic Development Department at the Armory for an interview during her final week with the town.
“Bel Air is a town that’s alive,” she said. “You can feel the vibrancy of the people who live here; you can feel the energy of the people who live here.”
Photo by David Anderson/Town of Bel Air
Trish Heidenreich, former economic development director for the Town of Bel Air, poses with Dan Cudone, president of TriState Commercial Realty Corp., after meeting in the Armory Marketplace business incubator.
Forging an economic developer
Heidenreich did not initially aspire to a career in economic development, but many experiences along her life’s path led her to that field, starting with her early life in Montreal, Canada. Growing up, she had exposure to the business and artistic worlds.
Her father worked in the aircraft industry, and her mother was a fashion designer. Her paternal grandfather was a musician who performed live on the radio, and her grandmother was in real estate.
Heidenreich also developed a deep connection with what would become her home state of Maryland through the many relatives of her mother who lived in Delaware and Maryland. She often spent summers in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
She moved to the United States in 1991 when the concert production company she worked for consolidated its Montreal, New York and Los Angeles offices in Colorado Springs. That was where she met her husband, John, who was a sound engineer for the company – Heidenreich worked in the marketing side of the company.
The couple, who now have two adult children, decided to move to the East Coast, as Heidenreich wanted to be closer to her extended family. She and her husband moved to Maryland, where she first took some time off and then went to work for Johns Hopkins University at their Columbia Center campus in Howard County. Heidenreich worked in student support services, plus she earned an MBA graduate degree from the university.
The skills Heidenreich learned during her life and career, including administration, business development, marketing and real estate, laid the groundwork for her future as Bel Air’s economic development director.
“I landed in economic development through an evolution of all these different crafts that I learned along the way,” she said.
Heidenreich and her family moved from Columbia to Bel Air in 2003. She recalled the “warmth” and “sense of community” she experienced upon moving to the Harford County seat.
“I felt such warmth coming from the people that were here, and my neighbors were so welcoming,” she said.
Heidenreich, whose husband was working as a contractor at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, praised Bel Air for its quality schools, as well as its historic downtown and slate of community activities.
She applied for the position of economic development administrator because of her interest in getting more involved with the town. Heidenreich said she was “delightfully surprised, delightfully pleased” that she got the job and would be paid to help make Bel Air a better place to live and work.
The position had the title of economic development administrator, rather than director, when Heidenreich started in 2006. She was a one-person department, “a little island unto myself,” working out of the shared Department of Planning and Department of Public Works facility on Churchville Road.
Economic development has since become a four-person department, including the director, based in the Bel Air Armory on Main Street in the heart of downtown Bel Air. Heidenreich described the building, which dates to 1915 and initially served as a National Guard armory, as “this iconic building, because you see it all the time, and who doesn’t love a castle-like structure?”
Armory ‘incredibly helpful’ for economic development
The Armory is the “castle-like structure” at 37 N. Main St. that has been part of the town’s skyline for more than a century. The building, made of Port Deposit granite, was developed as a headquarters for Company D of the Maryland National Guard’s First Maryland Regiment. It was later named for Lt. Gen. Milton A. Reckord, a Bel Air native who served in World War I and World War II, according to a 2015 feature article in The Aegis newspaper marking the centennial of the Armory.
The building was primarily used as a community center in the post-World War II era, providing a place for recreation, entertainment and community services. The Town of Bel Air acquired the facility from the state in the 2000s, with the official transfer of the deed happening in 2010, according to Heidenreich.
The Armory is a key driver of economic development in downtown Bel Air, with its strategic location on Main Street. Bel Air’s main drag experiences traffic counts of 15,000 vehicles per day, Heidenreich said.
With its large gymnasium, the Armory is still a major events venue for Bel Air – it was recently ranked No. 3 out of eight top wedding venues in Harford County. It also hosts community events on a regular basis, and the space in the lower level is set aside as classrooms for Harford County Public Schools’ Future Link Program, serving students with special needs between the ages of 19 and 21.
“[The Armory] has been incredibly helpful, because it has spawned a lot of activities in this area that are of an arts nature,” Heidenreich said.
The downtown area was designated by the state as an Arts and Entertainment District in 2011, and the Armory is a key part of the strategy to make arts and entertainment flourish in town.
“The building here has enabled us to have shows, events and things that drive people downtown,” Heidenreich said. “It’s been very helpful in creating the liveliness of Bel Air.”
Public art is another part of the arts and entertainment strategy. Murals can be found throughout town, as well as sculptures such as the “Hearts of Harford,” a project of the Downtown Alliance.
“I’ve always wanted [Bel Air] to be the largest outdoor art gallery in the United States,” Heidenreich said.
Public art and other beautification projects are part of economic development in a community, as directors should think about how to “beautify the landscape” and make it a place people want to visit, according to Heidenreich.
Marketplace pays dividends
Heidenreich led the development of the Armory Marketplace project. She worked with officials from the town government, Harford County, the state, as well as community organizations, to redevelop as a business incubator five garages behind the Armory. A mural painted by artist Jack Pabis adorns the wall at the East Lee Street entrance to the Marketplace. A second mural, by artist Marshall Adams, is on the wall by the other entrance accessible from the town’s Pennsylvania Avenue parking lot.
The Harford Artists’ Association gallery is a permanent tenant, and the other four spaces are currently occupied by Creative Chaos Designs, Kindred Spirits Vintage, Old Line Mercantile and the newest tenant – Cozy Cookies.
At least four former tenants – described as “graduates” – have set up in storefronts around downtown Bel Air. One of those graduates is Trish Ferrari Orndorff, president of Ferrari Frame & Design.
Her frame shop, which is on North Main Street at the intersection with Broadway, has been downtown since November of 2022. Orndorff became an Armory Marketplace tenant in 2019.
“Bel Air is a charming town, providing a variety of businesses that appeal to many in the community and county," she said.
David Anderson/Town of Bel Air
Trish Ferrari Orndorff, president of Ferrari Frame Frame & Design, is in her frame shop at North Main Street and Broadway. She is a graduate of the Armory Marketplace business incubator.
Orndorff praised the support provided by Heidenreich and her Economic Development staff while in the Marketplace, noting that “they were there from the get-go, giving me guidance and input.”
Economic Development officials met with Marketplace tenants about every three to six months to check in with them and offer guidance. Orndorff said she has developed friendships with Heidenreich and her staff through their business-related connections as well as a shared love of art.
“I always knew Trish had our best interests in mind, our success, in promoting us in the community,” Orndorff said.
Future economic development for Bel Air
Economic development has become a “field of study” during Heidenreich’s career, with classes in the discipline taught at the university level. Heidenreich is member of the Maryland Economic Development Association board – the organization has more than 500 members – and she is the co-chair of the board’s professional development committee. That committee crafts educational and training courses for local economic developers.
“It’s an ever-changing landscape, so you never get bored, and you can’t rest and say, ‘I’ve done it all,’” Heidenreich said of the profession.
Heidenreich stressed how crucial it is for local economic developers to establish partnerships in their communities, as well as at the county, state, national – even international – level.
“You have to act local, but think global, because we’re a microcosm of everything that’s going on around us,” she said of economic, cultural and technological shifts.
Bel Air’s economic development director also must coordinate with other municipal department heads, such as Planning, Public Works and the Police Department, to ensure the town offers a quality of life that encourages investment and economic growth.
“You don’t do anything alone,” Heidenreich said. “It really is that connectivity that makes things happen, and I’m really grateful for . . . everybody who puts their time in.”
Outside of the downtown area, one can find major national retailers, chain restaurants, as well as small businesses, along Baltimore Pike and clustered around the key intersection of Baltimore Pike and Route 24. Harford Mall, as well as several large shopping centers, are at that intersection.
Heidenreich reflected on how consumer behavior has changed over the past 20 years, with the rise of social media and online shopping, and how those changes have affected Bel Air’s economy. She noted that “mall culture was still very big” when she moved to town in the early 2000s.
But, as the popularity of online shopping grew, “that slowly eroded some of our socialization behaviors that included going to the mall, going to shopping areas,” Heidenreich said.
Economic developers must think about maintaining “the sustainability and vibrancy” of their communities as consumer culture changes.
“That’s where some of the work lies for the future, figuring out how to take those changing behaviors and make them work in the town’s favor,” Heidenreich said.
A challenge facing Bel Air is encouraging younger people to move to town and raise their families in Bel Air – a difficult thing to do as housing costs go up.
Heidenreich’s children -- Chris, who lives in Miami and Julie, who lives in Boston – and their friends have served as a focus group for information about how to attract people in their 20s to Bel Air.
They have expressed their love for the downtown area and its walkability, but they cannot afford to rent an apartment within walking distance from downtown amenities such as restaurants and craft breweries.
“They don’t want to live in an apartment a mile away,” Heidenreich said.
Her successor will have a “delicate dance” in preserving Bel Air’s historic small-town charm, but also encouraging development that attracts young families so it will remain a vibrant community.
“We love the quaintness, but we have to find out how to create this balance, to keep younger people here,” Heidenreich said.
She touched on her “desire to contribute to the wellbeing of society” and make Bel Air a better place for future generations, part of what fueled her during her tenure with the town.
“It’s a beautiful place to be, and so my role was always to contribute to that wellbeing, to keep Bel Air alive and healthy and make this a better place in any way that I can – even if it’s only by an inch,” Heidenreich said.
Contact Media and Public Relations Specialist David Anderson at 410-688-3020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.