Not every historic property in Frederick gets a second chance at life. Fortunately, the Visitation Academy will.
The former Catholic girls school is hard to miss, standing behind a thick iron gate on 3 acres between Second and Church streets in the heart of downtown. When it shuttered in 2016 after nearly 200 years of operation, many wondered what would become of the property. Despite the decades of memories inside its walls, the locked gate made Visitation somewhat of a mystery to many Frederick residents, as no one but those who attended and taught at the school were allowed inside for years. How amazing would it be if the gates were opened and the public could finally go inside?
What many people were unaware of at the time was that a pair of Annapolis developers were waiting for the school to halt operations so they could buy it and do just that.
Their vision is now moving swiftly forward. This past Monday, the city Planning Commission approved a site plan for a 60-room boutique hotel with a plethora of amenities in the former school building, and construction of multifamily housing on two other lots.
The property contains the three-story, L-shaped building that housed the school — part of which also operated as a hospital for a stint during the Civil War — monastery, auditorium and chapel. The plans call for restoration and rehabilitation of many historic elements of the building for the hotel and slated amenities, which include a bridal suite, restaurant and bar with a kitchen, meeting space, fitness center, shops and a salon.
The rest of the property is set to contain parking, as well as condos and apartments. The plans also call for the preservation of a cemetery at the back of the property where about 100 nuns who once lived and taught at the school are buried.
All in all, it looks as though the developers — Jim O’Hare and Lance Jaccard of the Annapolis-based O2J Visitation LLC — are doing everything right.
This project is exactly what Frederick needs, not only because it will bring a — though small — much-needed hotel to downtown, but because it is taking a Frederick landmark and preserving some of the most stimulating pieces of architecture to enjoy for generations to come.
And O’Hare and Jaccard, who have experience developing similar projects in Baltimore, Annapolis and Lewes, Delaware, should be commended for their innovative vision and willingness to invest in our city. According to a previous News-Post article, O’Hare estimates the total cost of the project will come in between $15 million and $20 million, some of which they hope to offset with federal and state tax credits. That is not a small price, and the investment is not going unnoticed.
Members of the Historic Preservation Commission have already given their blessing to the project, and the Planning Commission was the latest bureaucratic step. O’Hare said in November that he expected to open the hotel within two years. On that timeline, we should expect to be able to start renting rooms in a little more than a year. And we can’t wait.