ELLICOTT CITY, Md — Plans are moving forward in the new year to prevent the kind of devastating flooding Ellicott City saw twice in two years, but it's bittersweet news for the town and one business owner.
After operating The Phoenix Emporium for 18 years, owner Mark Hemmis has agreed to sell it to Howard County. It's the last of 10 buildings the county is buying as part of County Executive Calvin Ball's Safe and Sound plan to prevent flash flooding like in 2016 and 2018.
But it's a tough pill for Hemmis to swallow. The Phoenix has been a staple on Lower Main Street for 40 years. They rebuilt after three floods and it became part of his family.
"Owning the Phoenix has defined my professional career. I love Ellicott City and cannot fathom the possibility of the Phoenix not being on Main Street. The floods of 2016 and 2018 have taken a financial, physical, and emotional toll on my family, our staff, and all of our families, friends, and community that we continue to process to this very day. But we do not stop,: said Hemmis. "My children were raised in this building. My oldest son was 10 months old when I bought The Phoenix. My younger son, we announced his birth on the window so it's been quite a journey."
But the journey is not ending, just changing. The opportunity came up to buy Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, just up at the top of Main Street. So effective January 1, he is operating both.
"It's 3 stories, got 132 seats in the restaurant so it's a larger spot than where we are right now which is actually wonderful. It gives us the opportunity to hire more people and retain the employees from both restaurants," said Hemmis.
Brewing Company Co-Owner Timothy Kendzierski and the management team will stay on as they navigate the merging of these two iconic Ellicott City businesses and will remain as they take the new venture into the future. The chef/owner Richard Winter will retire following the transition.
His purchase of the brewing company brings his Ellicott City experience full circle.
"In February of 1997 I answered a newspaper job listing for a bar manager at a new brewery in Ellicott City. I had been to Ellicott City once before, on a date in college. My mother had to navigate me into town reading from a paper map book while I listened on my flip phone. I took that job at Ellicott Mills Brewing Company and the rest is history. My first hire was a gorgeous waitress who is now my wife of 20 years and mother of my two sons," said Hemmis.
The Phoenix will operate as normal through March 31. Ellicott Mills Brewing Company will operate as normal as they figure out next steps together.
"We are eternally grateful for the support of our community and are overjoyed with the opportunity to remain a part of Ellicott City’s resurgence," said Hemmis. "I'm excited to move. I would love to stay here. I love this building. I love Howard County. I love where we're at but it's not in the cards. We need to keep out employees employed and we want the Phoenix to continue to survive on Main Street."
Howard County’s negotiation to acquire The Phoenix Emporium building is still being finalized as a part of the Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan.
To date, Howard County Government has acquired nine of the 10 buildings it planned to purchase on lower Main Street. Six of these buildings will now have portions preserved. The next step is partial removal of the sections of the buildings over the stream channel. To complete this and subsequent renovation of these buildings, the county needs to undergo a federal Section 106 process to assess the historical impacts.
“We’re excited to see The Phoenix stay in Historic Ellicott City and merge with another Main Street business, The Ellicott Mills Brewing Company,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. “The resilience of Mark, Timmy, and their staff emphasizes that there is something special about this community. Moving forward, we will continue to work with all the residents and business owners through our Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan as we make sure Ellicott City is protected and preserved."
Ball announced the Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan on December 28, 2018. The final plan selected in May will reduce flood waters on Main Street to less than a foot in a 100-year storm and approximately three feet in a storm the scale of the July 2016 flood.
Additional efforts on flood mitigation and public safety improvements included in the plan have been made this year:
- Two projects, the Quaker Mill Pond and the H-7 pond, are slated to start construction within the next year, while the Maryland Avenue and 8600 Main Street Culvert projects are anticipated to start construction in FY2021.
- Rogers Avenue storm drain improvements are expected to be completed by the end of next month, weather permitting.
- The County has acquired the property needed for the H-4 pond, taking 34 units out of the development pipeline and securing 11 acres for upstream flood mitigation.
- Progress has been made on possible North Tunnel alignments. During the next year, Howard County will be studying to determine the subsurface conditions, including the location and nature of rock along each of the alignments, and another study to fine tune and select the best vertical and horizontal layout of the tunnel.
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting an independent study of our flood mitigation approach to ensure we are taking the best approach to protect Ellicott City.
ENSURING PUBLIC SAFETY
- Public safety remains County Executive Ball’s top priority and Howard County will be better prepared for future potential storms.
- For the temporary emergency alert system, a third speaker array was purchased and installed in parking lot “C” and as a result, emergency alert tones are now four times as loud in this area. The Office of Emergency Management also worked with the National Weather Service to create a new designation for Historic Ellicott City. Now, when there is a flash flood warning that impacts the Tiber/Hudson Watershed, the National Weather Service will specifically list “Historic Ellicott City” as an impacted area, instead of Ellicott City as a whole.
- An enhanced “Clearing the Waterways” debris clean-up protocol has already resulted in the removal of nearly 10 tons of debris so far this year.
- Significant progress has also been made with private access points to allow the public to access private property and exit the flood plain during a flood event. This is particularly important on the lower end of Main Street where there are limited ways for people to get off the street if flooding occurs.