Sterling Accomplishments

Downtown Frederick Partnership Celebrates Silver Anniversary

By Kate McDermott | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 10.22.15 – Diversions, Lifestyles

A recent survey revealed that the monthly First Saturday celebrations organized by the Downtown Frederick Partnership bring more than 168,000 visitors and an infusion of $6 million into the local economy each year. Given that kind of success, it’s no surprise that many people only associate the Partnership with those signature special events and its other big draw, the [email protected] summer concerts at Carroll Creek Linear Park.

Yet, as it prepares to mark its 25th anniversary, the organization is not only celebrating its past accomplishments but is also looking ahead. Sure, the Downtown Frederick Partnership will continue its special events and promotions, as well as its other beautification and business development efforts, such as awarding grants to support building façade improvements and its advocacy for a new Downtown hotel. But its supporters agree the time has come for the organization to sink its teeth into bigger, more comprehensive projects as well.

Big Plans, Big Projects

The organization’s strategic plan for the next five years identifies the potential of four “transformative” redevelopment projects that could have a significant impact on Downtown Frederick: the former Frederick Brickworks property on the southeast corner of East and South streets; the old Carmack-Jay’s grocery story on North Market Street; the East Patrick Street Post Office; and the East Street corridor. Although at this time, these properties are privately (or government) owned, the Partnership hopes to see them converted into new uses that would support other goals in the strategic plan, which include the creation of 200 new Downtown jobs and the addition of 335 new residents by 2020.

Maribeth Visco, a principal with Kline Scott Visco Real Estate, is an annual financial supporter of the Partnership and was an original board member of the Greater Frederick Development Corporation, which was the organization that eventually morphed into Downtown Frederick Partnership. She is pleased to see the Partnership focused on increasing the number of people living Downtown. “From day one, my emphasis has always been on residential,” she says. “Residential is the driver of towns. Business people go home at night. Residents add to the commercial success of downtown.”

But she points out that developers interested in residential projects in Downtown Frederick face a myriad of challenges, ranging from taxes (city residents pay both city and county taxes) to regulatory issues such as the high fees required to tap into the city’s water and sewer services. And then, of course, there is the ever-present issue of finding room to create new living spaces in an old historic district.

Growing Up—and Out

Downtown Frederick certainly has several examples of successful residential projects—think the Francis Scott Key Hotel and Maxwell Place on Carroll Creek. And Visco believes the Carmack-Jay’s site has the potential for new residential development as well, but not in its current state. “I am one of those people who believe the building needs to come down,” Visco says. “I think a new structure should be built up to the lot line that would have a market on the lower level and residential above. And the City also needs to address the property’s access issues by making Fourth Street two-way.”

She also sees tremendous potential in the large old Frederick Brickworks site which covers more than 60 acres. The property presents an unprecedented opportunity for new development, given that the 40-some blocks of the area identified as Downtown Frederick covers an area nearly the same size. With that kind of room to spread out, Visco believes the site doesn’t have to just offer townhouses or condos. “I think you could have small single-family homes with a little space, maybe even room for small gardens,” she says. “This could offer transitional housing for empty-nesters since this is a demographic that is rapidly getting rid of their big suburban properties to move to walkable communities.”

Pilar Olivo, president of the Partnership’s board of directors, also recognizes the need to find ways for boomers to live Downtown. “We know that this is a highly educated, high-earning demographic, so we want to find ways to capture those folks in retirement,” she says. But as a Downtown resident herself, she also sees lots of millennials who have chosen to live Downtown as well, so she’d like to see options for all demographic groups.

A 2014 poll by the American Planning Association reveals that’s a solid approach. The survey indicated that both boomers and millennials want attractive, walkable communities and housing where they can live as they grow older. So in addition to providing new housing options, Olivo says the Partnership is also focused on bringing other services and amenities Downtown, “including things people have told us they’d like to see, such as a grocery store, movie theater and more flexible retail and entertainment spaces.”

Assembling the Tools

Kara Norman, the Partnership’s executive director, says although these projects are much larger than some of the organization’s earlier efforts, the work is essentially the same. “We have always played a major advocacy role so working on these transformative projects is just an expansion of a role we have often played,” she says. “It’s just that some projects get more attention than others. There’s nothing terribly fun or sexy about trying to get a Downtown recycling program going.”

In other words, the Partnership isn’t going to start employing contractors to demolish buildings and construct new ones. But it will continue to work behind the scenes, researching and lobbying for the kind of “tools” that Norman says will be crucial to making these projects a reality, whether that be revised regulations or new ways to invest in old buildings—or new sites. It’s why she says she spends much of her time meeting with local and state stakeholders and visiting other cities to learn from their best practices.

Visco points out that, true to its name, the Partnership benefits from strong ties with a network of different groups that work together to support Downtown. “It’s hard to believe that after a successful event like Dog Days of Summer that we need to do more,” she says. But even its strongest supporters and investors know that despite its 25-year track record of great successes, Downtown Frederick Partnership cannot rest on its laurels.

“The Partnership is really known for its events and the attention they bring to Downtown, but we recognize that events can only take us so far,” Olivo says. “There’s no question about how great Downtown Frederick is and that what the Partnership is doing is having an impact. The question is how can we maintain its role as an economic driver?”