The redevelopment of the Frederick Towne Mall on Frederick’s Golden Mile presents a chance to revitalize its neighborhood along West Patrick Street, although making the project work will depend on a variety factors, according to city officials and real estate experts.
The mall’s owner wants to revitalize the site, which is to be renamed District 40, and bring in tenants that can make the site a destination for people from as far as Pennsylvania and West Virginia, said Faraz Cheema, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker Commercial, who represents the mall’s owner, Frederick urologist Mohammed Mohiuddin.
The first tenant, Warehouse Cinemas, has signed a lease for a 40,000-square-foot theater, which is expected to open next summer.
Other possible tenants could include go-karts, a bowling alley, a video arcade, a trampoline park, and restaurants.
What it won’t have is traditional retail like the past version of Frederick Towne Mall.
“That model doesn’t really work anymore for malls,” Cheema said.
The mall site, which closed in 2013, has long interested and frustrated prospective buyers and city officials with the amount of potential and risk it provides.
The Golden Mile Small Area Plan adopted by the city in 2013 lists the existing buildings adjacent to the mall, multiple land parcels under individual ownership, and the amount of floodplain – including existing buildings – on the property as challenges for the site. Both a Boscov’s store and a Home Depot are attached to the mall property, owned separately.
But the plan also cites the high vacancy that allows for redevelopment, the potential consumer base from the surrounding neighborhoods, and the amount of frontage on U.S. 40 as assets.
Cheema said they hope the mall’s revitalization will have a ripple effect on the surrounding neighborhood, he said.
But could the mall’s redevelopment change the nature of the surrounding neighborhood, bringing more expensive housing or raising costs for nearby retail tenants?
Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor doesn’t think so. The mayor said he doesn’t see the size and scale of the proposed project as being inconsistent with what was on the site when the mall was an active and vibrant retail hub.
The Golden Mile is a retail corridor, and that side of the city will benefit from having a property that is being utilized, he said.
“If anything, I think the commercial corridor stands to benefit,” O’Connor said.
While property values are always changed by development, O’Connor doesn’t see the mall project being a catalyst for a major change.
Any development in the area will help spur other development, said Joe Adkins, deputy director of planning for the city.
But a new golden age on the Golden Mile will take 10 to 15 years to come to fulfillment, and changes in housing prices would take decades, he said.
The mall development will help the neighborhood by giving the property an active use rather than a largely abandoned property, said Rocky Mackintosh, president and broker of MacRo Commercial Real Estate.
“Right away, that helps the situation,” he said.
While it still boasts a wide and diverse collection of businesses and dense communities of residential development, the Golden Mile neighborhood has changed from its heyday as the retail center of Frederick in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Like Adkins, Mackintosh said that won’t change overnight.
“It takes a while to rejuvenate an area that has sort of slowly slipped away,” he said.
The mall project gives the city a chance to create a gateway on the west side of town, but there needs to be transportation improvements to make it happen, said Tony Checchia, owner and broker of Verita Commercial Real Estate.
He advocates a new interchange with Interstate 70, through either the extension of McCain Drive through the planned Westside Regional Park, or at Mt. Phillip Road.
If the city is serious about revitalizing the Golden Mile, it needs to improve access to it, Checchia said.
O’Connor said any new interchange would have to be built with private money, since it isn’t in anyone’s transportation plans right now.
He said he doesn’t know if there’s any opportunity “knocking on the door,” but the city’s comprehensive plan could look at something long-term.
“That’s where every transportation idea starts,” O’Connor said.
Even before the mall project was announced, there was already residential development planned for the west end of the Golden Mile.
The Integrity Homes’ West Park development will add 285 town homes and single-family homes. Summers Farm has been trying to bring a mixed-use development to their property.
The city has a pretty good idea of what type of housing it wants in that area, Mackintosh said.
“You’ve already got an awful lot of multi-family that’s going out there,” he said.
Mackintosh said he’s wary of using terms like “gentrification,” which happens slowly over time and can be a loaded phrase depending on how it’s used.
“I don’t know what gentrification is supposed to mean sometimes,” he said.