Maryland | 2005 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 5/9/2005
Frederick, Md. (Pop. 57,000), is located on the banks of the Carroll Creek, just an hour’s drive from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. The downtown had experienced prosperity in its long history but it’s economy began to decline in the 1960s when four retail anchors moved to shopping malls and a new interstate whisked away jobs and dollars to Baltimore and Washington, D.C
In 1976, Frederick received another devastating blow when Carroll Creek flooded, submerging nearly 100 acres downtown. The $25 million damage further exacerbated the flight of businesses and jeopardizing the community’s historic fabric. Yet, even in their darkest days, the community envisioned a brighter future for their historic downtown and put their thoughts into action.
Frederick implemented a $65 million flood-control project that redirected Carroll Creek into large underground conduits, leaving a portion of the water visible above ground to create a meandering waterway nestled between pedestrian walkways.
The county government committed to locating its courthouse in downtown. Since then more than 3,000 workers have rediscovered historic Frederick and generated an interest in renovating historic row houses into office space. New restaurants and independent retail stores opened to cater to the growing business and entertainment clientele. Downtown Frederick Partnership, the local Main Street program, supports existing businesses by facilitating cross-promotions and nurtures new business development through trainings and taping into low-interest loans.
The Main Street program encourages the reuse of historic commercial buildings through its innovative loan program that enables property owners to buy state tax credits from Downtown Frederick Partnership for $0.27 on every $1 invested or to obtain matching façade improvement funds. The Francis Scott Key Hotel renovation project combined low-income, state, and federal historic rehab tax credits to converted the 1923 National Register property into first-floor retail, office space, a theater, and 46 upper-floor housing.
Frederick focused on creating an arts and entertainment niche market. It made adaptive reuse a priority by converting its historic opera house, a McCroy’s dime store, and 1895 mill into performing arts spaces, galleries, and arts education facilities. The state government, through the local Main Street program, provides tax credits and other incentives to support artists and arts-related businesses. There is an annual juried fine arts outdoor festival that attracts more than 20,000 people and an abundance of public art dot the streets and merchants’ walls. Now, more than 75 stores, galleries, and restaurants now stay open until at least 9 p.m. for the monthly First Saturday Gallery Walks. Pedestrian traffic downtown is shoulder-to-shoulder and many business owners report that receipts rival their best holiday sales totals.
Since 2001, more than 66 businesses have located in Downtown Frederick, increasing the occupancy rate to 90 percent. Frederick has received more than $135 million in public investment and $100 million in private investment for historic building renovations, conversions, and proposed infill development has been completed or is underway.
Thirty years after the flood that almost destroyed them, nearly all of Frederick’s 2,500 historic properties have been renovated for modern and mixed-use. The city is an arts and entertainment destination and continues to enjoy broad-based, coordinated community support.