BG Tannery - MP

The Birely Tannery building on the site of the former Frederick News-Post building on East Patrick Street.

City staff members are recommending that the Birely Tannery building be demolished to make way for Frederick’s proposed downtown hotel and conference center.

People who oppose the demolition will have one last chance at Thursday’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting to make their feelings known before commissioners decide its ultimate fate.

The commissioners have the final say on the demo and do not legally have to go along with the recommendation. They have held four public workshops to discuss the details of the request, which lasted for multiple hours and featured passionate comments from individuals both for and against the demolition.

Members of the public will have another chance to comment on the request before the commissioners vote.

The demolition request stems from plans to construct a multimillion dollar hotel and conference center at 200-212 E. Patrick St. The commissioners determined in July that the early 20th-century brick tannery building and surrounding archaeological site are contributing resources to the Frederick Town Historic District, thus halting immediate demolition plans.

The proposed design includes demolition of the tannery building but incorporates rehabilitation of the old Frederick Trolley building, which most recently housed The Frederick News-Post.

The developers, architects and other project partners were tasked with proving demolition of the tannery as the only logical way to construct the hotel at that site. They were also required to prove that all possible alternatives for preservation have been exhausted and to provide an alternative plan for preserving the historic elements of the site.

A last-ditch effort

Former Commission Chairman Scott Winnette has spoken against the demolition request on behalf of a local historic preservation advocacy group, the Frederick Preservation Trust. He spoke at the last workshop on Sept. 1, and said he hopes to attend Thursday’s meeting. He expects other members of the trust to show up as well.

During Winnette’s 10-year tenure on the Historic Preservation Commission, he said he recalls several instances in which the commissioners strayed from the recommendation of the staff members.

“Always, the staff report is respected, but there are occasions where the commission goes in a different direction,” he said.

Winnette explained that the employees are tasked only with following the historic preservation guidelines, but he said the commission exists to look at other details to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

“That’s why there is a seven-member body, to give you some wiggle room,” he said. “With the staff, it’s just the bottom line.”

While Winnette added that he hopes the commissioners will stray from the staff report with Thursday’s tannery demolition decision, he said he does not have a prediction on what will happen.

“I have no idea what they’ll do,” he said.

Jack Lynch, one of the founders of local advocacy group Friends of Frederick County, plans to attend Thursday’s meeting on behalf of the group. The members of Friends of Frederick County have been vocal opponents of the project at the proposed site.

Lynch said Wednesday he thinks it is premature to be voting on the demolition and believes the commission could be facing a lawsuit if they move forward with the staff members’ recommendation. He referenced an article that longtime project opponent Peter Samuel wrote that said the commission has not followed the proper, legal procedures for approving demolition of a structure that has been determined to be of unusual importance. The article predicts a decision to demolish the tannery building could be challenged in a lawsuit that could ultimately overturn it, which Lynch believes is a significant possibility.

He also said he does not think the developers have considered how much of an undertaking it will be to preserve the historic elements of the site.

“The city has never been dealt with a site as complex as these sites are for this project … they think it’s going to be quick and easy, and it’s not going to be,” he said.

Kimberly Mellon, a Friends of Frederick County board member, is also planning to speak against the demolition.

Group members distributed online fliers over the past couple of weeks advertising Thursday’s meeting and encouraging people to attend in an effort to “Save the Tannery.”

“We’ve been learning and following information from experts and historians in the area … and we’ve come to the realization that we don’t feel [the tannery] should be torn down. We feel it should be preserved,” Mellon said.

She added that she and the other demolition opponents were surprised about the contents of the staff report.

“We were actually very shocked the city staff have reversed their decision and recommended demolition,” Mellon said.

Staff members did not make a recommendation for demolition before issuing the staff report for Thursday’s meeting. The only other recommendation staff members made was in July, before the first meeting on the tannery building demolition. The recommendation urged the commission to find the site and structures are contributing resources to the district. It said staff members would make a decision on demolition at a subsequent hearing. The commission upheld the recommendation and proceeded with the four workshops to discuss the demolition request.

Staff’s recommendation

The staff report, which is attached to the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, said employees determined “the structure is a deterrent to a major improvement program that will be of substantial benefit to the City subject to the approval and permit application for a replacement plan.”

It also includes an array of comments explaining how they came to that decision, which included information gleaned from the presentations the project proponents made during the workshops.

The report points out the developer’s efforts to incorporate the building into the project and the challenges they said they would face in redeveloping it. Staff members agreed that redeveloping the building without the help of the developer’s money would not be feasible.

“Staff concurs with the applicant’s presentation and testimony which posits that this site would be unlikely to be successfully redeveloped if not for the public-private partnership arrangement that has been assembled for this particular project,” the report states.

Pete Plamondon Jr., co-president of Plamondon Hospitality Partners, and architects with Peter Fillat Architects and Bates Architects also offered some examples during the last workshop of how the developers may incorporate the historic elements of the tanning industry into the project.

Plamondon did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

Follow Mallory Panuska on Twitter: @MalloryPanuska

(24) comments

recordhigh

It's a cheaply-constructed 19th century warehouse with no architectural significance. It's only noteworthy architectural attribute is that it is profoundly ugly. It's historical significance is basically nothing other than the fact that it has been there for a while. Tear the eyesore down so that the property can be put back into productive use.

gary4books

Just look a the "authentic awnings" and the piles of bricks painted white. Tanneries were always on the frontier and soon pushed further out. Why? Nobody wanted to live by one. Not even then. certainly not now? How about a historically accurate reproduction? Stink and all. people would be enraged. I know there are reasons to protest this new hotel and most seem very sincere. But not for the tannery. Find a reason that makes sense - like to save Frederick from bed bugs. Or "better in a corn field or an old brick yard."

gary4books

Wikipedia writs this about tanneries in history: "Formerly, tanning was considered a noxious or "odoriferous trade" and relegated to the outskirts of town, amongst the poor. Indeed, tanning by ancient methods is so foul smelling, tanneries are still isolated from those towns today where the old methods are used. Skins typically arrived at the tannery dried stiff and dirty with soil and gore. First, the ancient tanners would soak the skins in water to clean and soften them. Then they would pound and scour the skin to remove any remaining flesh and fat. Next, the tanner needed to remove the hair from the skin. This was done by either soaking the skin in urine,[citation needed] painting it with an alkaline lime mixture, or simply allowing the skin to putrefy for several months then dipping it in a salt solution. After the hairs were loosened, the tanners scraped them off with a knife. Once the hair was removed, the tanners would "bate" (soften) the material by pounding dung into the skin, or soaking the skin in a solution of animal brains. Bating was a fermentative process which relied on enzymes produced by bacteria found in the dung. Among the kinds of dung commonly used were those of dogs or pigeons.[2] Sometimes, the dung was mixed with water in a large vat, and the prepared skins were kneaded in the dung water until they became supple from bacterial enzyme action, but not too soft. The ancient tanner might use his bare feet to knead the skins in the dung water, and the kneading could last two or three hours. This combination of urine, animal feces, and decaying flesh made ancient tanneries malodorous. Children employed as dung gatherers were a common sight in ancient cities. Also common were "piss-pots" located on street corners, where human urine could be collected for use in tanneries or by washerwomen."

jnorcross

According to the City of Frederick's website (https://www.cityoffrederick.com/475/Tourism-Film) and its posted 2010 figures, Frederick County reaped over $280 million from 1.9 million tourists, with about 1.4 million of these visitors coming to downtown Frederick. Yes, the Birely Tannery in its current state is an eyesore. But is it irrelevant to the City of Frederick? No. The outreach site “VisitFrederick.org” welcomes tourists to Frederick county and city with the slogan "Where Hip meets Historic Every Day." Try typing "City of Frederick Tourism" into Google - your search brings up "Points of Interest," of which 7 of the 9 points are directly related to our history. Yes, a downtown hotel to house our guests will benefit the city. Properly restored, possibly re-imagined or even re-purposed, the neighboring Birely Tannery could benefit and enrich our city's public history for our visitors, as well.

PLKKLP

Can they somehow incorporate the Tannery bldg into the new hotel? Preserve it and find a new way to use it rather than it just sitting there empty?

jerseygrl42

No surprise here , its all about the TAXPAYER money that will be used to make the Plamondon family wealthier...$31 Million that could and should be used to eliminate some of the trailer park schools...if the project can't stand on its own two feet financially , it should NOT be built ....

m21701m

31 million couldn't build one good school.

CDReid

Maybe not, but it would cover a significant portion of the costs related to adding onto existing schools in order to eliminate the portable classrooms.

stjohn42

I have been looking at pictures of this building for six months, and I have yet to see what possible reason there could be to call it historic in the architectural sense. It is just an old brick box. We do not have to save *every* building just because it is old.

DickD

Those that say it is an eyesore, are right. What difference does it make how it was used or the original plans. Anyone thinking this would cause more tourism is wrong. Just ask yourself, would you go anywhere to see an eyesore like this.

Dwasserba

Was it always white? Was there shrubbery? It stands out in a bad way.

elymus43

This is another reason for ALL new people in city hall.

kimberlymellon

Many of the opinions here reflect a similar ignorance I once held about the tannery building. Because it has been so neglected by its owner, never acknowledged, or its story told by City leaders, or written about in history books, I never knew it was a tannery - the last one standing in Maryland. Did you? I didn't know this building with its stately chimney amongst our spires is credited with the economic boon in trade that may well have saved this town from being just another small town of little importance in Maryland. I didn't know of it's important African American freedman heritage studied by Williamsburg archeologists. We've summarily demolished landmarks recognizing the history of African American contributions to Frederick while celebrating our pride in our diversity. It's time we put our actions in sync with our words. Restoring and saving both the Birely Tannery and the Trolley Station will increase tourism and community pride in who we are. This isn't about a choice between a hotel and our historic Tannery along Carroll Creek. There's plenty of room for both in historic Downtown Frederick. SAVE BIRELY TANNERY!

rbtdt5

Those of us that live in Frederick City and Frederick County want it gone.

Dwasserba

Thank you, KM.

Burgessdr

OUR spires? OUR Tannery? OUR city? OUR mayor? Is it mania? Or schizophrenia? Or just delusions. Clearly not treatable.

lewisantq

I believe this article is wrong about who has the final say. The Historic Preservation Commission can recommend but the Board of Aldermen will make the ultimate decision. Bob Lewis

LeonardKeepers

i believe the decision is all cut and dried since the final say goes to the historical commission. i would be very surprised if the commission votes to demolish the building.it should be demolished and it is a eye sore to the community.

rbtdt5

The destruction of this property breaks my heart - said no one ever

benedictus

It ain't the Schifferstadt. Knock it down.

CDReid

If they who want it preserved are so passionate about it, let them take up a collection to buy a piece of property and have it moved there. Far larger buildings then this have been relocated. Other than that, I say tear it down.

LaxBro

what an eyesore

CDReid

Yep [thumbup]

EABiker

Move it to Magnolia Avenue; I hear there will be an empty lot there soon.

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