Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Decade


Last Friday, an amazing crew of staff, friends and Board members threw a surprise celebration in recognition of my ten years with Downtown Frederick Partnership.  When I think about ten years professionally, I can’t believe how the time has flown.  When I think about it personally, I can’t imagine how I wasn't more than 10 years younger when I started this job. 

In my professional life, the Partnership has grown from a staff of one to a staff of one plus an intern to a staff of two and now – a staff of three.  When I walked in the door, the merchants were busy organizing what would become the first First Saturday coordinated by the Partnership.  Since that day, we have grown to add a full calendar of First Saturdays, Frosty Friday, Alive @ Five, Progressive Dinners and more to our rolls.  We've launched a fa├žade improvement program and implemented a new wayfinding signage system.  We now offer six free business workshops each year.  The organizational budget has grown from less than $100,000 to more than $500,000.  I say all of this not to toot my own horn but really in amazement at all that we have accomplished together.  So many people, organizations, partners and more have made this list and so much more a reality - all for a better Downtown Frederick. 
 
In my personal life, I've lived rented three apartments – but only lived in two, bought one house on my own and a second with my husband.  I got married, gained and lost a dog and gained a daughter. 

When I think back to the gal sitting in the bagel shop post interview waiting for the board and not knowing what was next, I can see someone so young and fresh.  Now, a decade later, I see a great life in Downtown Frederick with a hope for many good years ahead.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

Abe & Me



With a new employee joining us this week, all of us have been talking about great jobs, fun jobs, interesting jobs.  Well, I have to say that my job is all of that and more.  I can’t think of many other places of work where your Thursday could include making calls for financial support, editing contracts, spending time on the street visiting with the merchants and, to round out the day, speaking with President Abraham Lincoln.  I’ve had a smile on my face about the idea of speaking with Lincoln for more than a week because, after all, he did pass away a few years ago. That said, we had important things to talk about – recognizing history, celebrating the community and honoring the contributions of the many volunteers and agencies who contributed to the heritage trail marker project. 

Lincoln joined us yesterday on the rail car at the train station (and now the Frederick Community Action Agency) to re-create a speech given 150 years ago on October 4 at the same spot.  Lincoln was speaking following a visit to Frederick to see a General wounded in the Battle of Antietam.  When you think about it – it’s just amazing.  Yesterday, I was standing at the spot that President Abraham Lincoln spoke – the building that provides the backdrop for the setting remains today.  To see history come to life is truly inspiring and humbling.   Many kudos to the Tourism Council of Frederick County for arranging the event.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Business Appreciation



Today is the conclusion of Business Appreciation Week in Frederick – a great event organized by the Frederick County Business Retention Department – where more than 100 Frederick County businesses are visited in one week.  I am lucky to be one of the fortunate few who get to serve as an ambassador during the week.  Each team of ambassadors visits five or more businesses each day.    It is fascinating.  The diversity of businesses found in Frederick, the specialized skill sets, the unique perspectives and the stories of what brought them here and got them into business  - it’s just an amazing experience . The overall tone of the day was very positive – with businesses expressing positive growth in the past year and/or a positive view towards the year ahead.  In the spirit of Business Appreciation Week, thank you for doing business in Frederick!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Busy



I will admit that I've been a bit too distracted by too many good things happening in Downtown Frederick to devote any mind space to this blog.  Mea culpa and I'll try to do better.  As far as good things, here's a sampling...

  1. The Partnership officially made a new hire today, expanding our ranks to a total of three.  More on the new gal soon – in the meantime, I am dreaming of more time for new projects.  
  2. The Green Team – the great crew of formerly homeless guys who work for the Frederick Community Action Agency - is doing great work power washing the sidewalks of Downtown Frederick.  The results are amazing – the crew started on Market Street at South Street in mid-August and are moving north.  You literally can see where they have been – the results are sparkling.  While the process is slow, eventually all of the downtown sidewalks will be power washed.
  3. The heritage trail markers are now in place.  This project had a far too long gestation process so it is particularly thrilling to see the work on the streets.  Thanks to intern power (yet another great thing) a map of the markers is in the works.
  4. For the Partnership, tis the season for asking for financial support – although the season never actually ends – it just takes different forms.  This year, we have received very generous investments – some expected, some unanticipated – all so welcomed to support our efforts as we grow and thrive right along with Downtown Frederick.

There’s so much more going on but I have to get back to work. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Great Potential


On Tuesday of this week, we were fortunate to have Tom McGilloway with Mahan Rykiel join us to give a presentation to the Partnership’s Design Committee on great urban landscapes.  Even better, Tom stuck around and took a tour of Downtown Frederick with us. It was so much fun to think about what could be and the possibilities for some of our great pedestrian paths.  Our first tour focus was on the connections between Patrick, Market and Carroll Creek.  First stop – Park Alley.  Just imagine lights strung above your head, small, two-seat tables attached to the walls with brightly covered umbrellas above, a changing exhibit of art on the fence surrounding the property being renovated near Carroll Creek Way and great lighting to highlight the building’s architectural features while providing guidance to those walking back to the Carroll Creek Garage at night.  Believe it or not, these ideas were just from our first five minutes of touring.  I can’t wait to find some pots of money and get the implementation under way.  So many more great ideas for Carroll Creek Way, Maxwell Avenue, the Seventh Street Fountain and more… all this daydreaming and I’m not even on vacation (yet – but I’ll be away next week so two weeks until the next post). 

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Committee Recommends


As a proud member of the City’s Blighted & Vacant Property Committee, I am thrilled to report that the Committee recently released our recommendations for commercial properties – on time and under budget (We do work for free).  The recommendations provide a great mix of carrots and sticks. I also feel the recommendations help fill in the spectrum from the currently available tools of code enforcement (the first tool of choice) and eminent domain (the last tool of choice).  You can read the full report on the City of Frederick’s website.  For this post, I am focusing solely on the recommendations. 

First, and the great news is this recommendation is already done, the Committee asked the City to create a Blighted Building Database to track problem buildings.  The Committee felt strongly that the database should be created and updated by City staff – property owners are not required to register and they are not required to pay a fee.  I think it is obvious that a good solid feel for the number of problem properties is the first place to start.

Second, the Committee supported the re-authorization of several existing tax incentives as well as the establishment of new tax credit programs.  These incentives were approved by the Board of Aldermen on July 19 and provide a clear incentive to invest in commercial buildings.
The third recommendation supported a Compounding or Escalating Fine System.  Built on a basic premise (three strikes and you’re out), more than three building code violations in one year and the owner will pay more for each additional violation. 
 
Fourth – an incentive – if you buy a property and it comes with liens built up due to recommendation#3 – but you have the plans and the money to rehabilitate, then the liens will be forgiven.  This recommendation removes a potential impediment to the sale of blighted buildings – the cost of paying outstanding fees and fines.  In the long term, we all win as the building will be renovated and back on the tax rolls. 

Fifth - a stick – in the creation of a Blighted Building Property Tax – which may ultimately become a fine based on Aldermanic input – that assesses an increased city property tax of five times the base rate on properties that are on the Blighted Building Database for more than one year.  The point of this incentive is to encourage owners to get their buildings off the blighted list.  

Finally, the Committee strongly recommended the establishment of a Property Receivership Program to allow for the appointment of a third party receiver to manage, rehabilitate, market and/or sell distressed properties.  

Next step, going from idea to reality by creating the necessary document, ordinances, etc to enact the recommendations.  While the Committee might take a moment to pause and celebrate this first successful milestone, I can assure you all are committed to seeing this task through to implementation.  Look for more to come. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Two Hour Tour


On a recent Thursday, the Partnership borrowed the City van (Thanks City of Frederick DED and especially Heather Gramm, our fantastic driver!), loaded up about 10 Design Committee members and headed south to take a tour of both Park Potomac and Downtown Silver Spring.  Why?  The Design Committee was following up on an offer from Brigg Bunker with Foulger Pratt to tour a couple of example projects in the area.  Foulger Pratt has been selected by the Brick Works to develop their 60+ acre parcel located between Interstate 70 and South Street – to the east of East Street.  While not within the traditional bounds of Downtown Frederick, the Brick Works site will have a significant impact on downtown when it develops.  The Partnership and many of the involved stakeholders agree that the development of the site should be complementary and not competitive to Downtown Frederick.  The Partnership wants to remain involved and be a part of the evolution of that idea – from the current concept to a future reality. 

The great news is that both of the developments we toured are very well done and provide interesting ideas to consider for the Brick Works site.  The Park Potomac site includes a significant amount of residential and I think some on the tour got to daydreaming about the potential positive impact of more downtown (or near downtown) residents.  

Both sites included public art – a great feature that I think most of us would love to see incorporated into the Brick Works site.  The art helped create a sense of excitement in an all new environment, providing a bit of the texture that historic communities have in abundance.  

Finally, we talked a bit about the current difficulties in the office market, despite some of our desires to see some significant new office space in close proximity to Downtown Frederick.  It will be a challenge to think thru 10 + years of growth on this site and how the uses, the mix and more will change in the intervening period.  

All in all, the tour was very successful, enabling all of the participants to talk through ideas and think a bit about what the future could bring.