The Frederick Board of Aldermen voted last Thursday evening to rezone the Frederick Towne Mall property from mixed use to commercial, thus ending a long, emotional struggle about the fate of this important little corner of Frederick.
If events unfold as expected, a new Wal-Mart will occupy the space of the once-bustling mall. If so, it will be the giant retailer’s third representation in Frederick.
Many people are understandably disappointed by this decision because they believe it flies in the face of a unique “small-area” plan devised by the Frederick Planning Department and embraced by the Golden Mile Alliance. A lot of effort went into this plan, which is intended to make the Golden Mile more inviting and accessible to shoppers, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.
The vision for the mall property was also unique, in which a mix of residential, commercial and recreational space was to take shape — a rejection of the monolithic big-box-store concept that dominates much of today’s commercial landscape.
Unfortunately, the mixed-use plan drew little or no interest from potential investors, who said that such an idea was financially untenable. The property, they argued, was suited for commercial use only, and a big-box design was the way to go.
Only Wal-Mart showed an interest, and it was persistent.
In addition, time has taken its toll. The mall property has been ostensibly vacant for years. It is a depressing eyesore and a waste of prime commercial land that could support jobs, generate tax revenue and contribute to the local economy.
Despite that, some aldermen and other city officials were understandably conflicted and in a quandary about how to proceed. Some of those who were initially against the rezoning, however, slowly relented as the economic realities became more evident — and the months and years kept rolling by.
Our hope is that a new Wal-Mart will spur economic activity on the Golden Mile and help revitalize that section of the city — that it will be good for other businesses on the strip, as opposed to making things more difficult for them.
We also hope that the plans for the property will hew as closely to the letter and spirit of the small-area plan as possible. We encourage city officials to press the future occupant for any and all contributions it can make in support of this plan.
It would be a real tragedy if this decision turned out badly over time. That’s possible, but we do believe it was made in good faith and after much debate and soul-searching by city officials whose alternative was basically to continue to do nothing and hope for the best.
One thing is certain. The new residents of the mall property should be a major force in the social and economic revitalization of the Golden Mile. We hope it plays out that way.