The Future of Frederick Towne Mall
Golden Mile business owners and city residents speak out about retailer’s stake in Frederick mall property
By Adrienne Lawrence
Photographs by Cindy Alderton
Regardless of what position you took during the extensive debates over rezoning, the votes were cast and the Frederick Towne Mall was rezoned back to general commercial status, clearing the way for the developer to rebuild the mall with a Walmart as its anchor. Given this fact, the question is no longer whether you like or dislike the idea of having a third Walmart in Frederick. The real question here is “now what?” What exactly is going to happen to the Frederick Towne Mall? [Also read: Frederick’s Next Dead Mall]
If You Build It
While not everyone agrees with the decision the developer has made to have Walmart as the anchor store, most people do agree that the City of Frederick (as in our local government) shouldn’t decide or dictate what business will set up shop anywhere in town, be it the Frederick Towne Mall or another property. Rather, it’s the city’s job to make sure the right infrastructure and zoning are in place to see that the property is attractive to developers. And in this case, according to the developer, the only large company that is interested in the property is Walmart.
Walmart?! It’s a common reaction that aldermen and the mayor heard throughout their discussions concerning the Frederick Towne Mall, which is about 40 acres in all (or 602,000 square feet) and happens to be the single largest commercial property in the city limits.
“Don’t clutter the landscape with another Walmart. We should improve the services to the people and not give them the same thing. Work harder, come up with a new style store that we don’t have,” Frederick citizen Jack Mens posted on the Golden Mile Alliance’s Facebook page.
While many people agree with Mens, about half of the population seems to agree with Frederick resident Joe Charlebois. He points out to Mens on the same Facebook post, “Did you look at the plans? This is a gorgeous plan that really addresses a need. It may be just what is needed. The Route 26 and Route 85 stores don’t service this area, even though I personally would love to see another store, this is a good deal for the local residents.”
And Mayor Randy McClement agrees with Charlebois. This Walmart will serve people who live around the Golden Mile, but it is also meant to attract people who live west of Frederick, such as those in Middletown, Brunswick and Boonsboro.
Alderman Karen Young’s daughter is glad to see Walmart come in. It’s where she does most of her shopping, and since Young’s daughter lives just north of the Golden Mile, the location will be ideal. But what do business owners on the Golden Mile think?
“It’ll be convenient,” Justin Kiska says. As president and managing director of Way Off Broadway, which is located on the Golden Mile, Kiska is also a member of the Golden Mile Alliance board. According to the Alliance’s Facebook page, “The Golden Mile Alliance is an independent organization, founded in partnership with the City of Frederick, to promote and foster a vibrant and safe Golden Mile gateway community through business, neighborhood and economic development activities.” Seventeen voting members are on the board, including ﬁve business representatives, ﬁve residents who live near the Golden Mile, ﬁve property owners, the mayor’s representative and an alderman. Frederick Chief of Police Thomas Ledwell is also a member, but not a voting member.
Kiska isn’t the only business owner to see Walmart as a good possibility. Alderman Young and Mayor McClement spoke with many business owners — over the course of the city’s discussions — who didn’t see Walmart as a threat since their companies offer items or services that Walmart doesn’t provide, such as specialty shoes and food. Small business owners saw it as a chance for the new location to revitalize the area and bring it needed attention. “It’s going to be a nice anchor,” Kiska says. But, as we have heard these past few months, not everyone agrees.
To Zone Or Not To Zone
Over the last few years, the Frederick Towne Mall property was zoned as mixed-use, meaning that when a developer went in to tear down the mall and build new structures, most of it could be used for commercial development, such as stores. However, a certain (smaller) percentage needed to include ofﬁce and residential buildings. That’s unnecessary, Young points out.
The City of Frederick has too much ofﬁce space: A large portion of it sits unused and likely will continue to be available for the next 10 years, she says.
So instead of requiring the development company to build more ofﬁce space, the Board of Aldermen wanted whatever company looking to develop the property to put it to good use and not end up with wasted space.
The board voted to rezone the property to general commercial in July.
Some people believe that rezoning paved the way for Walmart. Not really.
“Walmart could have come in, regardless,” Young says, no matter whether the property was zoned as mixed-use or general commercial. However, because of the new zoning in place, Walmart agreed to a more attractive deal — literally. The property will literally be more attractive. Instead of the concrete and asphalt jungle — which already exists there — the property will have more green space and trees. In addition, the new buildings are designed to reﬂect some of the architecture found in downtown Frederick. The building that will house the Walmart won’t even look like a typical Walmart.
The architecture designs and site plan follow objectives outlined in the Golden Mile Plan, under Goal 5 (the city’s Planning Commission released the Golden Mile Small Area Plan in 2010):
- Accommodates retail development;
- Provides local residents with employment opportunities;
- Provides goods and services;
- Creates a destination for visitors;
- Enhances the image and appearance of the Golden Mile and the City of Frederick; and
- Increases tax revenue.
In a fact sheet from Walmart, the corporation presents the objectives and how the design meets each one.
While Walmart is well-known for paying a little more than minimum wage (currently $7.25 in Maryland per hour for a full-time, 40-hour-per-week job), the company states the average full-time employee earns $11.91 per hour (as of January 2013). McClement also says he compared minimum wages from several big box stores, such as Kmart, and Walmart typically pays more. (There’s a Kmart location on the Golden Mile, too.)
The site plan includes the following:
- Community center
- Picnic area
- Bridges for residents to safely cross Rock Creek Park
- Walking and biking paths
- Community garden
- Landscaped trafﬁc circle
The trafﬁc circle with landscaping will be part of a road currently called “The Avenue,” a path that will allow trafﬁc to get from one end of the Golden Mile to another without driving onto U.S. Route 40. City ofﬁcials and members of the Golden Mile Alliance board hope the beginning of the avenue will inspire later restructuring to include more of it, hopefully connecting the shopping centers all the way to U.S. Route 15. The avenue also includes bike and walking paths so pedestrians will be able to safely get around the shopping centers.
Safety has been one of the top priorities all along. Everyone wants to make sure that people will be safe, no matter what time of day it is. “There’s always police on Route 40 driving the circuit,” Kiska says. “They’re very active.”
Diana Halleman, president of Neighborhood Advisory Council 5 (NAC 5) agrees. “You see them walking and riding bikes in the neighborhood,” she says. Kiska and Halleman see the chief of police or one of his deputies at every Golden Mile Alliance board meeting. “They show up on their off hours,” adds Halleman, who is also president of the Golden Mile Alliance board. “For them to give up family time to be with us, it shows real dedication to the community.”
What is the key to making the property safe? “Light it up. The more light, the safer it is,” she says, quoting Kim Dine, Frederick’s former chief of police.
Is Walmart the Right Partner?
Halleman — who is president of NAC 5 (the residential area mostly just north of the Golden Mile and south of Fort Detrick) and is president of the Golden Mile Alliance — has mixed feelings about Walmart moving into her neighborhood.
“As a homeowner, I’m not thrilled,” she says. “Personally, I’m not a supporter of Walmart — just on principle.” Halleman is also concerned that the new Walmart location will not enhance the neighborhood’s property values.
When people point out that this location will be Frederick County’s third Walmart, McClement asserts that no one seems to complain that there are many McDonald’s Restaurant locations in town, especially two which are less than a mile from each other and both are on the Golden Mile (one is near Giant Eagle and the other is near Weis). In addition, only two of the three Walmart locations are inside city limits. The Walmart on U.S. Route 85 is in the county.
As president of the alliance, Halleman says it is better to have a thriving business there versus nothing at all.
Young agrees. While she chooses not to shop at Walmart and instead opts to spend her money at locally owned establishments, she understands that choice isn’t always an option for everyone. As mentioned earlier, her daughter regularly shops at Walmart.
McClement also shops at Walmart, commenting that the prices help him and his wife save money — a consideration that can always be a deciding factor.
While concerns over Walmart practices, such as low wages and little to no community involvement, are common place, city ofﬁcials have sought to make sure that Walmart is a good partner. Speciﬁcally, Young says she spoke with Walmart representatives to address her concerns.
First, she wanted to make sure Walmart would work toward providing affordable housing, education opportunities and partnerships with clinics. To learn more about these goals and how to effectively know who to turn to in Walmart’s hierarchy, Young plans to schedule community forums where leaders of major groups in Frederick can meet with Walmart representatives.
Will all of these goals be met? “Nobody ever gets 100 percent of what they want,” Young says. “If we get 80 to 90 percent, it’s a success.”
“Let’s work with them,” she continues. “Help them be perceived as a good community partner.”
Can you name all the shopping centers located in the city? Check out the full list.