Downtown Strategic Plan: An Implementable Plan for Leonardtown, MD
Located in Southern Maryland—in a region experiencing significant suburban growth—Leonardtown is a traditional small town. It is the only community in St. Mary’s County with a hub of independent businesses and restaurants within a walkable downtown and designated arts district.
The Town of Leonardtown has benefited from a history of long-range planning. By 2018, the once mostly vacant downtown was already seeing new investment, stimulated by Leonardtown’s previous planning efforts and action-oriented leadership. Yet there was a need to build upon previous efforts. The premier downtown public asset, “The Square,” was landscaped and well-maintained, but this space was not inviting daily use. Wide streets, which enabled speeding vehicles, cut the Square off from adjacent sidewalks. Much of downtown Leonardtown was suffering from disconnectedness and lack of activation. On surrounding blocks, new locally-owned restaurants and shops were opening, but their activity was hidden behind façades. The waterfront park, an extensive and successful amenity, was detached from downtown—only a quarter mile away, but downhill and out of view. Additionally, a new 300+ residential development immediately adjacent to downtown was in the planning stages and, depending upon how connections were planned (or not), would either be a “barrier” to or a “seam” with downtown Leonardtown. Recognizing the need to guide investment and steer ongoing improvements for a brighter future, the Town initiated a new era of planning.
Leonardtown saw need to increase activity around “The Square”, accelerate and sustain downtown investment, and conduct additional planning to ensure that the new residential development would seamlessly and sensitively connect to—rather than cut off—downtown. And to achieve a vision that would be owned by all, the Town also needed to leverage support from political leaders, business owners, property owners, and citizens. It was critical that the planning process would unite partners and stakeholders, instill the community’s confidence in Town leadership, and demonstrate early successes to build enthusiasm and support for future projects and planning efforts.
The Town retained the Landscape Architect (the “LA”) to engage with the community and prepare a plan to guide future investment, maintain a vibrant environment for residents and visitors, and connect existing and future assets to downtown. It was important that the LA garner trust and credibility within the community, so the Town divided planning into multiple phases: beginning first with a façade improvement effort before proceeding with a full Strategic Plan.
The LA facilitated an interactive façade improvement workshop, which was well-received and directly led the Town to establish a façade improvement program. Numerous property owners have participated in this program. Having earned the community’s confidence, the LA then assembled and led a team in developing the multi-phased Leonardtown Downtown Strategic Plan (the “Strategic Plan”). The Strategic Plan provided the Town with the tools to implement immediate, highly visible, and realistic enhancements while also planning for long-term growth and improved connectivity within the community and between planned neighborhoods, existing neighborhoods, and downtown.
The Strategic Plan, which was grounded in market analysis and extensive stakeholder and community participation, provides value to a small town with limited resources by outlining realistic, pragmatic, achievable solutions. It defines the vision and presents tools that Leonardtown’s highly creative community can use to build support for and implement many projects on their own. The Town’s early and successful implementation of highly visible enhancements—including façade improvements, public space enhancements, a new community brand, and branded wayfinding—enables them to continue building support and credibility as they pursue the longer-term vision. As a direct result of the Strategic Plan’s recommendations, increased activity on The Square and within downtown has leveraged new and expanded businesses and continues to generate interest for ongoing private investment.
The following pages outline and illustrate components of the Strategic Plan and communicate how each phase has led to implementation successes.
FACADE WORKSHOP – CATALYST CONVERSATIONS | Focusing on enhancements that could be implemented immediately and achieved with limited resources, the LA facilitated an interactive façade improvement workshop with businesses and property owners, demonstrating practical—yet impactful—improvements. Since then, 34 businesses have participated with $125,000 in public investment which leveraged an additional $475,000 in private investment.
PHASE I – CREATING A VISION FOR REVITALIZING LEONARDTOWN |Having earned the trust and confidence of the community, the LA team was retained to prepare a multi-phase Downtown Strategic Plan grounded in market analysis. Expanding upon the façade improvement program, the team prioritized highly visible improvements for the underutilized public realm while identifying a guiding framework of broader opportunities.
THE HEART OF LEONARDTOWN |
Recognizing Leonardtown’s limited capacity for major capital public realm improvements, Mahan Rykiel prepared graphics and images to demonstrate how landscape modifications, placemaking, and temporary parklets could reap immediate impacts. Activating the public realm and providing traffic-calming in the short-term could transform downtown until more permanent changes are possible.
ACTIVATING THE SQUARE. ACTIVATING THE TOWN | Following recommendations of the Strategic Plan, Leonardtown restored its greatest public space asset: “The Square.” Cost-effective and highly-visible improvements—limbing tree branches to open sightlines, planting canopy trees for shade, removing a hedge that acted as a barrier, and adding colorful chairs—have increased everyday use of this central greenspace.
GETTING CREATIVE WITH PLACEMAKING AND PARKLETS |The Strategic Plan recommended parklets as a strategy to narrow excessive roadway areas while re-activating streetscapes. Although people were initially unsure about losing convenient parking, when COVID-19 struck, Leonardtown was already well-equipped to respond swiftly, install temporary outdoor parklets, and activate public spaces—providing much-needed economic relief for businesses throughout.
FROM “POP-UP” TO PERMANENT | Leonardtown’s temporary parklets were well-received. Their benefits were so clear that the Town worked with businesses to transform many parklets into permanent outdoor dining areas. Community attitudes quickly changed—downtown was no longer just a place for parked cars, but was now considered a vibrant destination for people year-round.
BUILDING MOMENTUM WITH BRANDING AND WAYFINDING |Responding to stakeholder input, the LA-authored Strategic Plan recommended revisiting Leonardtown’s brand to bolster community pride, reinforce a sense of identity, curate visitor experiences, market Leonardtown to new audiences, and attract investment. Having established trust, the LA team returned to facilitate this process of updating Leonardtown’s branding and brand extension.
EMBRACING LEONARDTOWN’S REFRESHED IDENTITY | Leonardtown’s refreshed branding gained so much support that the Town immediately adopted the updated logo and new tagline, which were implemented in wayfinding and marketing materials. Businesses, artists, and community members continued embracing the brand, deploying it in their own creative ways and further reinforcing Leonardtown’s sense of community pride.
A VISION FOR L-TOWN ALLEY |The Town used the LA Team’s graphics, community branding, and stakeholder-informed vision to secure the political support, funding, and artist involvement necessary to implement the initial improvements to the alley, declaring the new space “L-Town Alley”. These improvements are transforming the alley from an “in-between” space into a destination itself.
L-TOWN ALLEY REALIZED | The Town packaged the refreshed branding and the vision for L-Town alley to secure both funding and artist involvement for initial alley improvements. These improvements, which showcase the Town’s commitment to public art, are bringing “L-Town Alley” to life, transforming it from an “in-between” space into a destination itself.
Leonardtown’s Long-Term Vision | In addition to using the Strategic Plan to guide short-term implementation successes, the Town is also using it as a framework to guide long-term investment. Investments include connections between downtown and planned and existing neighborhoods, the waterfront, town attractions, parks, and the extensive Breton Bay Greenway trail network.
LONG-TERM VISION: SEEDS FOR ADDITIONAL GROWTH | The Strategic Plan’s long-term recommendations are attracting attention: a new business owner is interested in developing a privately-funded dog park—a catalyst for the proposed Fenwick Lawn park—while an existing business owner wants to expand their successful retail market with a complementary food hall at a premier spot at the waterfront.
THERE’S MORE TO COME FOR LEONARDTOWN |To anyone investing in Leonardtown, the Strategic Plan’s implementation successes provide confidence. An existing business is renovating the Duke Building—a neglected landmark on the Square—so their restaurant can expand. A new business is converting a long-vacant bank across the street into a co-working hub and multiple retail venues.