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.
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.