A new roof, electricity, and a heating and cooling system are among the renovations required before any business could open in the empty 20,000-square-foot building on the Carmack-Jay’s site.
Jim Mackintosh, the Mackintosh Inc. Realtors agent hired by property owner Douglas Development Corp., described the downtown Frederick building as an empty shell requiring a “considerable amount of money” to transform it into a fully functioning retail or commercial site.
The cost of these repairs, along with other features of the site layout, have contributed to the challenge of finding a tenant or owner for the 331 N. Market St. site, according to Mackintosh. He will meet with Douglas Development next week to discuss an alternative solution: razing the building and starting from scratch.
The idea is in its infancy — “totally conceptual,” according to Mackintosh. But the benefits of creating a building customized for a tenant or owner’s planned use, instead of trying to make the use fit with current conditions, could be significant.
A new site could be built closer to the street, perhaps with a larger footprint given the 1.35 acres of property, with corresponding parking changes. More levels could be designed to allow for a multi-use facility with apartments or condominiums on the upper floor.
It’s a possibility worth exploring, according to Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership.
Given the major renovations needed for the vacant building, which isn’t protected by historic guidelines, “why wouldn’t we seek solutions that would be better for the community,” she said.
The right price
Mackintosh said Douglas Development hadn’t quoted a rate for buying or leasing the property. A listing on the commercial real estate website CoStar provided by the city’s Department of Economic Development shows a three- to-five-year lease at $25 per square foot, with 11,500 square feet of space available for rent. The lease is listed as “triple net,” meaning that the tenant would be responsible for paying property taxes, insurance and maintenance. Tenants would split these costs based on their portion of the property.
Richard Griffin, the city’s economic development director, described the price as slightly above the average for downtown city property, which averages around $15 per square foot. But that average represents a range from below $10 per square foot for older, dilapidated buildings to $25 to $30 for newer development along Carroll Creek.
The higher rent certainly limits the pool of prospective tenants, Griffin acknowledged, but added that “it’s based on math.”
Installing a heating and cooling system, electricity and a new roof for the vacant building, or building a new one, is no small cost. It makes sense to want a corresponding return on investment from a tenant through a higher price, according to Griffin.
The property would also be eligible for credits equal to half of the city and county taxes over seven years, Griffin said. The credits are calculated based on the impact of redevelopment on the property value. Renovations including HVAC, electrical and roof repair would all count toward increasing the $742,500 value as of July 1, 2014, according to the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation.
The price is not set in stone, either.
“The value is largely depending on what you put there, and that will dictate what the price would be,” Mackintosh said.
Residents have continued to propose filling the vacant property with a grocery store. Results of a 2001 study showed the already-saturated grocery market made this request unlikely to come to fruition. At a community meeting several months ago, Mackintosh said these findings likely still hold true.
But the study also suggested that a public market of local vendors might work. And, given the rise of Frederick’s farm-to-fork program and locally grown produce, Griffin said it’s a viable option.
Another branch of Common Market, which already has a loyal customer base among city residents, would be a “perfect fit,” Griffin said.
Griffin also acknowledged a market run by a nonprofit organization as a possibility. But the financial investment required to buy or lease the property could prove problematic for that type of organization, Griffin said.
Mike Dickson, who owns the nonprofit Seeds of Life Nurseries, agreed. He said he would be willing to run or manage a local market on the property, but would need community support, and investment. He said he doesn’t have time to organize that type of fundraising campaign with the nurseries’ other programs, but he would certainly support it.
“Even just writing a business plan would be a start,” Dickson said.
He’s just waiting for the talk to turn into action.
“The biggest issue now is that we’ve got a lot of cooks, but nobody cooking, so to speak,” he said.
From an economic development perspective, the ideal use for the site would combine commercial use — a market or otherwise — with residential units, Griffin said.
More people living downtown means more customers for that business, as well as the other consumer-based businesses in the area. It also provides more eyes on the lookout for safety issues, as well as code violations, which could prove key to transforming the other vacant and blighted properties in the 300 block of North Market Street, Griffin said.
Demand for downtown living space is on the rise, particularly among young professionals and empty nesters, according to Griffin. And building new on the Carmack-Jay’s site would make it even more desirable, since the challenges posed by living in one of the older buildings downtown may dissuade some who are otherwise interested in moving there.
Mackintosh said he’s awaiting input from Douglas Development before moving forward. If the owner indicates interest in razing the building at their scheduled meeting next week, Mackintosh said he’ll submit a demolition request to the city, and work with consultants to develop new building designs.
Progress also hangs on interest from a tenant or buyer, whose plans for the space would influence any renovations or new building designs.
No offers have been made so far, although Griffin said the property had been shown to several possibly interested parties.
“So far I think they’ve been more focused on the concept for revitalization,” he said.
Griffin likened the pairing between owner and tenant or new owner to a marriage, one that takes time to find the perfect fit.