The message from Frederick residents at Wednesday night’s community meeting was clear: The entire northern end of the city, not just the former Carmack-Jay’s property, needs to be revitalized.
Many among the standing-room-only crowd pointed to the vacancies, derelict buildings and the lack of foot traffic that characterize the “north of Fourth” region.
According to residents, addressing these issues is a key part of finding a tenant for the long-vacant 331 N. Market St., once home to a grocery called Carmack-Jay’s and still referred to by that name.
“No realistic retailer is going to move into a place that’s 50 percent vacant,” said Bruce Albaugh, a Third Street resident, likening the 300th block of North Market Street to a skid row.
Hallie Burrier, owner of Treaty General Store, agreed, detailing her observations of the gradual demise of Third Street as seen from her North Market Street business.
“Business is both offense and defense, and Third Street is about protecting what you have,” she said. “What can be done to help fight blight and blight vacancies?”
Resident Joe Dillon referenced one property owner in particular as the source of the blight problem, asking if Douglas Development could purchase and transform that, or any other, of the problematic properties in the 300 block of North Market.
Consultants weigh in
But city officials and hired consultants on the Carmack-Jay’s property revitalization approached the topic from a different perspective.
David Lingg, of Lingg Property Consulting, said that finding a tenant for Carmack-Jay’s would serve as the catalyst for improvements to the surrounding neighborhood.
Lingg, who was brought on by Douglas for his expertise on the city’s land management code, which dictates how the vacant property could be used, suggested a mix of commercial and residential uses as a plan that could spur such revitalization.
“You need something of that nature drawing some new retail and some more upscale things to that area,” he said.
Jim Mackintosh, of Mackintosh Realtors, the newly hired commercial broker for the site, also supported a mixed-use plan as an “economically feasible” option for the property.
The specifics of the plan depend on what a prospective tenant wants, Mackintosh said.
The grocery debate
What won’t work, however, is a grocery store, which has been a repeated request from city residents.
“We can sit here and say we want a grocery store till we’re blue in the face, but it if doesn’t make economic sense and they can’t afford it ... you’re going to have the ones just like in the past where they’ve gone belly up,” said Mackintosh, referencing numerous chain and smaller groceries that have decided against opening a store at the vacant North Market Street site.
Despite his characterization of a small market as “nearly impossible,” a few residents repeated the suggestion Wednesday night.
Mike Dickson, CEO of Seed of Life Nurseries, said a market run through Seed of Life as a nonprofit would allow it to qualify for tax credits, helping to offset the potential financial disadvantages the site poses for that kind of business.
Dewey Stewart, who runs the Frederick City Market, advocated for a small, co-op style market, which he said “brings something that a Safeway or Giant can’t bring.”
Development-friendly changes needed
Others in the crowd said that regardless of what goes in the space, the city’s fees and red-tape-laden approval process for rehabilitation of old buildings should be revised to make the area more development-friendly.
Hilda Staples, city resident and co-owner of a series of area restaurants including Volt and Family Meal, said she and business partner Bryan Voltaggio previously considered opening a market in the Carmack-Jay’s property. Instead, they opted to take their business to Washington, saving $200,000.
“The city fees were just too much,” Staples said.
Peter Samuel, editor of a website known as Restore Historic Frederick, named cutting red tape and reducing regulations as the key to economic development.
Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, acknowledged that certain costs, like the city’s water and sewer impact fee for new users, were relatively high in Frederick. But changes made by the mayor and Board of Aldermen to that fee structure could alleviate some of the burden, particularly for infill developments like the Carmack-Jay’s site, he said.
Mayor Randy McClement echoed this sentiment in remarks made at the end of the meeting. He said the city will continue to address blight, including the specific property owner Dillon mentioned, whom the city “will hit in every direction.”
McClement urged residents not to forget the progress the city has already made, describing Frederick as “98 percent good.”
The jeers and objections that followed his statement indicated that residents don’t feel the same.
Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify Bruce Albaugh's reference to a skid row.