No one project is going to bring back the former Frederick Towne Mall from its current state of neglect and disrepair. The abandoned shopping center on 37-plus acres of prime real estate continues to be, as we said earlier this year, an albatross around the neck of the Golden Mile.
It will take a lot of positive steps to erase the years of neglect and negative impact this eyesore has had on the surrounding business community. Aside from the Boscov’s and Home Depot, there’s been no reason to go to that location in well over six years.
But a few announcements last week may give us reasons to be optimistic about the future of the shopping center.
Warehouse Cinemas has signed a lease to open a 39,000-square-foot, 10-screen “affordable luxury” movie theater at the mall site, with a goal of opening by the summer. The $5 million concept would include first-run movies, leather recliner seats, premium food and other amenities. The theater owners hope to obtain a liquor license as well.
The lease signing is hopefully the first step in a completely reimagined facility now being marketed as an entertainment center called District 40. Caldwell Banker Commercial, the leasing agency for the 580,000-square-foot site, envisions the former mall as potentially home to a combination of such things a go-kart track, a video arcade, a bowling alley or even a trampoline park.
In a retail world where online shopping is taking a big bite out of brick-and-mortar stores, commercial property owners are turning to inventive uses for old malls, such as entertainment centers. Nationwide, this kind of approach has been a successful way of bringing back investors as well as customers.
But as we all know, it’s not every day that an investment opportunity for the old mall site comes along. You’d have to go back to 2013, when a Walmart Supercenter was eyed for the location. But that proposal failed to gain public approval.
The next step to this plan is the zoning. The site needs some zoning changes, according to David Newman, president of the Golden Mile Alliance, a group that was formed in 2011 to promote business in the corridor. Frederick’s Planning Commission is expected to vote on the rezoning at its meeting tonight. On the face of it, we see no reason for the rezoning to be denied.
“Getting the mall fixed up into something other than a vacant building is going be a huge boost for the whole area, absolutely,” Newman told our reporter last week. “It’s going to draw more traffic, and you know, other businesses are going to pop up all around it.”
Newman is right. This District 40 proposal could be a shot in the arm not just for the mall, but for the entire corridor. While we await more details on everything from traffic to tenants from the property’s owners, the West Frederick Center LLLP, we’re encouraged by last week’s developments.
Now comes the hard part — actually making this proposal a reality.