Standing on North Market Street recently on a busy night in downtown Frederick, Mardelle Poffenberger said she watched the foot traffic and noticed how many people turned around just north of Third Street.
One of the problems, Poffenberger said, is a vacant property that stretches nearly half of the 300 block of North Market Street. The property, once home to a market called Carmack-Jay’s and still colloquially referred to by that name, has been vacant for 17 years.
“People would walk a few stores down (on Third Street), and see the vacancies and nothing going on, and turn around, again and again,” she said.
City officials, as well as people living and working near the property, including Poffenberger, co-owner of Bravura Arts and Framing in the 400 block of North Market Street, say they hope that changes soon.
The city of Frederick is hosting a community meeting at 7 p.m. May 13 at the city’s annex building at 140 W. Patrick St. to discuss the history and best use of the property. Mayor Randy McClement scheduled the meeting to give people an opportunity to come out and tell the property owner, Douglas Development, their thoughts on the best use of the property, he said.
While residents have been hoping a grocer or market will move in, McClement said he wants to see if the residents would be open to other ideas.
Mike Dickson, CEO of Seed of Life Nurseries, and Dewey Stewart, who runs the Frederick City Market, have thought about trying to get an indoor farmers market on the site, which could be run by a co-op, Dickson said.
Downtown residents now have to go out of downtown for groceries, and this would bring the food to them, he said.
Developers and downtown leaders have been talking about ideas for the property that will have people excited, said Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak. She said she could not elaborate more at this time.
Kuzemchak, a Realtor for Mackintosh Realtors, said people will start to see more development happening, with the uptick in the real estate market.
Mackintosh was recently brought on as the new leasing agent for the site. Since, there seems to be more movement on getting the site fixed up and rented out, said Richard Griffin, the city’s economic development director.
“This shift is a real positive step,” Griffin said. “We feel that the owner and leasing agent will come up with something to use the property appropriately. What that is, we don’t know yet.”
A new tenant has moved in to part of a building on the property that faces the street, but the main building on the site is still empty, McClement said.
Residents call for action
One week before McClement set up the community meeting, the people who run the Facebook page “The City of Frederick’s Blight Problem” encouraged the page’s more than 1,100 followers to email public officials to ask them to do something about the vacant property.
“We decided that enough is enough with this property,” Andy Stout, a downtown resident and one of the people who run the page, wrote in an email. “No news from city hall (or anyone else) about it for what seems like years. Since (McClement) and the gang only respond to public shaming, and since the mayor loves to be led by the nose to problem solving, we figured we would help him find his way.”
In a separate email to an alderman, Stout said he suggested a community meeting.
Two days later, McClement announced the meeting, Stout said.
Now, Stout said he wants the mayor to give the residents credit for starting the conversation.
McClement acknowledged that he received a few emails from residents just before setting up the meeting, but he said he had the meeting in the works long before hearing from them.
“It’s Murphy’s law,” he said.
The main building on the site was built in 1959, when Carmack’s Inc. built it for a market. The site was acquired by Jay’s Market in 1959 and the market then became Carmack-Jay’s, which operated until 1995.
The city bought the property after Carmack-Jay’s closed, and sold it to a company that opened a new market on the site, but then the market closed less than two years later and the city took the property back.
After thinking about trying to operate a city-run market on the site, the city sold the building in July 2002 to Douglas Development, which then spent $900,000 renovating the outside of the building and tried, but failed, to find potential tenants.
No one really expected the property to be vacant for as long as it has been, Griffin said.
The site is an enormous opportunity loss for the neighborhood, he said.
Before moving to the 400 block of North Market Street, Bravura used to be near Market and Patrick streets, with all of the foot traffic that comes with that location, Poffenberger said.
“Then, I moved up here to no man’s land,” she said.
A new tenant at the old Carmack-Jay’s property would really help, she said.
Hopefully this is a new chapter for the property, McClement said.
“Of course we want it full,” he said. “It helps the vibrancy of our city to keep things full.”