Downtown Frederick

by Virgil Soule. 0 Comments

All cities have failed enterprises and Frederick is no exception. Forty West seems to be slowly dying or at least hanging on. On the other hand, parts of the city are booming with new businesses and new housing opportunities.

A lot of great ideas are floating about for saving Golden Mile businesses. But all of the proposals say nothing about one key ingredient: Customers! Where are the customers? Fredericktowne Mall is empty because it lacked that one important ingredient. Boscov’s isn’t exactly thriving nor is Home Depot. J. C. Penney at FSK Mall is on its last legs. (Penney’s just canned their CEO but I don’t think that’s the real problem.) Sears and Macy's at FSK Mall aren't much better off.

It’s possible that the mall idea is dead thanks to the internet and Amazon.com. Amazon.com’s business is largely automated. They don’t need to hire hordes of people to stock shelves and maintain large stores scattered around the country. Amazon.com has another important advantage: Its customers don't pay state sales taxes. It may be necessary to give Golden Mile businesses preferential tax treatment to ensure their survival.

Declaring malls to be dead may be a bit premature, however. New developments on MD 26 off US15 north and east of town seem to be doing well. It may be that Forty West is contracting simply because the city’s population center is moving northeast. Forty West is in a mature neighborhood with no new housing development. Businesses there are not attractive enough to induce customers to drive in from outside the area to shop.

It could be a basic supply-and-demand issue. Frederick may simply have more stores than the market can support. Unpleasant as it may seem, it may be appropriate that some stores fail in order to better match supply with demand in the marketplace.

(We’ve had the same problem with farmers for over a century. The result has been an array of Federal farm support programs that are of questionable value in today’s economy.)

Considerable traffic flows up and down Forty West every day. Parking spaces are abundant. Access to parking is more than adequate. And yet, businesses there are not thriving. Why is that? Is anyone in the City or County Government looking into this? (The State government, I’m sure, is not. They’re too busy building socialism.)

Forty West’s problems will ultimately be sorted out and solved by normal market forces. The City of Frederick, however, must be sure that it’s not exacerbating the situation with bad taxation or zoning policies, for example.

Problems with Carroll Creek Linear Park won’t be fixed by marketplace economics, however.

The Carroll Creek Linear Park has been a thorn in Downtown Frederick’s side for a long time. The Linear Park is a nice place but it’s been neglected and mismanaged. It’s not a nice place to visit because it smells bad. It smells bad because it has an algae problem. Carroll Creek has an algae problem because the water is stagnant and oxygen-poor. Putting plants in the water will only contribute to the mess. Leaves will fall off and sink to the bottom. Eventually Carroll Creek will fill in with muck through a natural process called eutrophication.

The water in Carroll Creek must be aerated and refreshed. Literally tons of water flow down through Baker Park every day but it drops into a storm drain and is lost. Some of that water should be pumped into the linear park so that water flows and flushes out the crud. The water should be clear enough and fresh enough that fish can live in it.

The City of Frederick should either commit to maintaining water flow through the Linear Park or they should drain it, lay sod on the bottom, and plant flowers. If support for the park through taxation is not an option, then perhaps funding can be found through local donations or outside foundations.

Green spaces are beneficial to any town but they must be properly maintained.

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