A building in the middle of the proposed downtown hotel and conference center is a contributing resource to the Frederick Town Historic District, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission agreed.

But the fate of the 108-year-old Birely Tannery building is still up in the air.

After about two hours of testimony and discussion Thursday, the commission voted unanimously to give the contributing designation.

That means historic elements of the building must be preserved. It doesn’t decide one way or the other whether developers can proceed with plans to demolish the building at 212 E. Patrick St. as they move forward with the proposed multimillion-dollar downtown hotel and conference center.

“It appears that most of us are in favor of finding this to be a significant resource to our historic district,” commission Chairman Dan Lawton said before the vote. “That does not mean it cannot be demolished. One thing at a time.”

The commissioners began discussing whether to approve demolition of the building Thursday, but did so for about 30 minutes before calling it a night. Discussion will continue at future workshops.

A relatively equal number of attendees spoke for and against the demolition at Thursday’s hearing.

Proponents included various members of the downtown business and residential communities, and representatives of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Frederick Partnership and East Frederick Rising.

Opponents included concerned residents, historic preservation analysts, archaeologists and others interested in preserving historic structures and sites.

Project plans and history

Plamondon Hospitality Partners is developing a 180-room hotel and 20,000-square-foot conference center at 200-212 E. Patrick St. The project is set to come to fruition with both public and private dollars.

The property chosen contains both the Birely Tannery and the former Frederick News-Post building, which was once the Frederick trolley station. The plans propose to rehabilitate and reuse the trolley building as a retail facility and raze the tannery building for parking.

The Historic Preservation commissioners also voted 6-1 Thursday, with Commissioner Carrie Albee opposed, to designate a 1960s addition on the old News-Post building as a non-contributing resource to the historic district.

The building, which is also slated for demolition as part of the project plans, was used as a pressroom for the newspaper and was found to have no real historic significance. The commissioners in turn voted unanimously to approve the demolition request.

The demolition of the tannery is much more complicated, however.

The Birely Tannery was established in 1830 and operated until 1952. The current building was constructed in 1909.

In 1955, the building was repurposed into a poultry plant and all remaining accessory structures were demolished, but the main tannery building was retained and adaptively reused, according to records summarized in the staff report.

The building has been classified as the last tanning facility in Maryland. At one time, Frederick was known as the hub of the industry, with as many as eight tanneries in operation in the early 20th century, according to records.

A wave of opposition

Opponents to the demolition of the tannery building — and in some cases the overall development of the hotel at the East Patrick Street site — voiced their concerns loud and clear Thursday.

“As the last remaining site, it offers an opportunity that other places do not offer,” said Jane Weir, a Middletown resident and vocal project opponent.

Some opponents also commented on the building’s historic significance overall as a part of what was once a booming industrial business in Frederick.

Officials with the Maryland Historical Trust determined in February the building and archaeological site at East Patrick and Carroll streets belong on the National Register of Historic Places. The designation means the historic elements of the site must be preserved through any future development.

Several of the speakers pointed out the significance of the designation as a means to ensure the building remains standing, despite its current state. The tannery has been cited for various code violations over the years for a range of structural and cosmetic issues.

“I know the tannery is not beautiful. ... But it does tell us about an often overlooked part of Frederick’s past,” said Kelly Berliner, a Frederick resident and archaeologist.

Not all of the speakers opposed to the demolition were against the hotel.

Several of them said they support a downtown hotel, but they do not believe it should come at the price of razing a historic structure like the tannery.

Justifying development

Some of the project supporters explained Thursday why the tannery building itself is not necessary to preserve the history of the industry in that spot and defended the choice to develop at that particular site.

“We strongly believe that the site presents an enormous opportunity to infill a largely vacant prime site alongside Carroll Creek Park and provide the users of the project with a city-central, dynamic and walkable experience that will showcase our great city to the maximum degree,” said Pete Plamondon Jr., co-president of Plamondon Hospitality Partners.

Myron W. Randall Jr., one of the current owners of the property, described the hotel as an “excellent use” for the site and said he and his family members look forward to helping to contribute to the economic growth of downtown by selling the land for the project. He also said the decision to demolish the tannery was not taken lightly.

“The incorporation of the surviving part of the Birely Tannery operation into the new site was explored exhaustibly, but the interior design of the long-vacant building made its retention not feasible,” he said.

Chamber of Commerce Chairwoman Linda Morgan pointed out that most of the historically significant elements of the tannery building are no longer there.

“The Birely Tannery, in its current state and location, no longer holds the significance it may have at one time,” she said.

Clyde Hicks, co-owner of The Trail House on South Market Street, said that as a nearby business owner, he has waited for years for development along the creek.

“The creek is missing an anchor, and this proposed hotel and conference center will be that anchor,” he said.

Follow Mallory Panuska on Twitter: @MalloryPanuska.

(16) comments

elymus43

The best answer to what to do with the Birely Tannery is for Plamondon Hospital Partners to put another ROY ROGERS RESTAURANT in the building..... That way jobs would be created and downtown Frederick would have another upscale eatery. Then everybody would be happy again/

matts853

I think that tannery is ugly as hell. But if it qualifies to stay under the rules it should. But there's too much money at stake for a lot of different people so it will go, guaranteed. It's all about the money.

matts853

This is a case study in businessmen and politicians colluding to break rules and push around the little guys while playing three card monte with taxpayer money.

I think this is a bad business model, but even if it gets done and turns out not to be, it doesn't deserve to go any further based on the deception and unethical befiavior of many involved. Not to mention that they are relying on cherry picked reports that are what, 6 or more years old to justify it. Actually no, they abandoned looking at the underlying projections long ago, not that they were serious about it to begin with - and why should they be concerned since this one big project heavily leveraged with tax dollars. There's no separation of the public-private components. Give me a break!!!

What's there to lose when you're not exposed to losing money? This is playing out based on relationships and pride, there's no due diligence.

Ridiculous.

gary4books

Pehaps when this is over, these scholars can tell us how many angles can dance on the head of a pin. Or are there other questions to decide?

shiftless88

It depends on if those angles are obtuse or acute

threecents

The right ones would fall off.

matts853

Isosceles could be the lead scholar.

sevenstones1000

The hotel building itself, as drawn, is incredibly ugly. No trees. A completely barren slab-like structure. Why is no one talking about that?

shiftless88

I will say that I'm not a fan of the public funding going into this deal, but on the other hand I'd ask those of you who are against tearing down the tannery how many times you have visited the tannery in the last five years. Face it, a tannery isn't that exciting. A nice historical marker with an explanation of what a tannery was and such is sufficient.

Dwasserba

I'd tour a tannery with costumed re-enactors. Why go to Rose Hill? Why go to Schifferstadt? Why go to Taney's house?

threecents

Wait, did Taney, TJ, or FSK ever visit the tannery?

Ellenatodd

Properly restored, this structure could be a marvelous centerpiece of any redevelopment. You can travel most anywhere to see a hotel by a creek, but to have an historical remnant, that's what we call character ... and it's what makes Downtown Frederick different (better) than Disney.

Thewheelone

Build the hotel, leave the tannery, forget the convention center and get no money from taxpayers. How's that for a solution?

petersamuel

This report fails to make clear that the City’s Historic Commission voted seven to zero that the Birely tannery and the associated archeological site are not only ‘contributing’ (historically) but also that they are “of unusual (historical) importance.” This means the bar to demolition has been set very high indeed. The City and applicants have to persuade the Commission there is no alternative plan which could allow the Tannery to be preserved. This is absurd since the City’s own consultants Pinnacle/OPC as far back as 2010 produced a site plan with the Tannery preserved. And as Commissioner Albee pointed out during the first workshop the plan presented by architect Peter Fillat devotes a large area of the site to elaborate vehicular driveways, and a passenger drop-off court. The Commission has in the past refused to allow demolition of buildings of driveways and parking. The chances of this ill-conceived plan gaining approval are very slim.

KellyAlzan

[thumbup]

Ellenatodd

[thumbup]

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