The constant battle to develop the northern blocks of market street.
By Matt Edens
“All businesses are equal as far as I am concerned.” That’s what Mayor Randy McClement said when executive chef Bryan Voltaggio, co-owner—with partner Hilda Staples—of Frederick’s Volt restaurant, asked the city for relief from an estimated $200,000 in water and sewer impact fees for a planned, new eatery.
Overall, I can appreciate McClement’s position. As far as the city reducing or waiving fees and requirements is concerned, it shouldn’t matter who is doing the asking.
However, thanks in part to the petitioner’s current status as Frederick’s biggest celebrity, I think a couple of things may have gotten lost in the discussion over the impact fees for his planned redevelopment of the old Carmack Jay supermarket on North Market Street.
For starters, that’s a big, empty eye- sore of a building that Voltaggio wants to transform into a theme restaurant.
Built in 1959 and operated as a privately owned grocery store until it closed in the early 1990s, the city acquired the building in 1996 for $675,000. It then promptly sold it—owner-financed and at cost—to a third party, who briefly operated it as a grocery store.
But when the market again failed in 1998, the property reverted to the city, which, in 2002, sold it again, this time to D.C-based Douglas Development Corp for $400,000.
Over the following few years, Douglas Development re- vamped the façade and parking area, but was unable to find tenants for the building. It remained chain-link and barbed wire-enclosed, until the company contracted with the city to manage the parking area as a metered lot.
But the site is far from the only empty storefront on this stretch of North Market Street; and the ones that are occupied don’t necessarily cater to downtown’s First Saturday crowd.
Above 3rd Street, downtown’s lively mix of boutiques and bistros quickly fades, and is replaced by a transitory mix of tat- too parlors, head shops and more mundane services, such as janitorial suppliers. The largest commercial tenant in the area is a thrift store; the newest business there is a bail bondsman—and even the tat- too artists are moving on, seeking more viable real estate further south.
Adjacent to downtown’s thriving core, underutilized and with a surprising amount of empty buildings and vacant land, the North Market Street area is ripe for revitalization. Its Carmack-Jay property (part of Census tract 7501, between 4th and 7th Streets, downtown, which is the second-poorest in the city) is only one of many possibilities there offering the prospect of new business and jobs to an economically struggling part of town. Not only that, redevelopment there could utilize existing infrastructure, and transit, and would benefit from the north side’s inherently walkable set-up.
Just about any way you look at it, reutilizing, rebuilding and revitalizing our existing urban fabric is the smartest form of growth there is.
So why is it that when developers or business owners want to invest there, they face the exact same impact fees as someone wanting to plunk down an Applebee’s on the Crum Farm or some other green field tract the city has annexed?
It likely because—ideally speaking—all businesses are equal in the eyes of the city; but that’s an eyesight that has yet to discern the difference between development of a blighted center-city area in need of renewal to just one more shopping mall in the suburbs.