The developers of the Frederick Towne Mall believe they have found a way to end the woes of the nearly empty shopping center: a third Walmart location for Frederick residents.
Representatives of the mall and Walmart attended a Frederick Board of Aldermen workshop on Wednesday to present their plans for a new, more inviting Walmart to replace the mall that would include green space and walking paths for pedestrians.
DLC Management, a New York-based firm that is developing the property, has asked the city to change its zoning from mixed use, which requires a housing component, to general commercial, which would allow a Walmart to be built on the site.
The Frederick Planning Commission recommended at a March meeting that the aldermen reject a zoning change.
David Severn, a Frederick lawyer who represents the mall’s developers, said the hope is the newly presented plans for the store — which would be attached to a change in zoning to ensure the property would look the same after implementation — would be an incentive for the aldermen to approve the zoning change.
“Walmart has agreed to purchase a substantial portion of this property and have agreed to a significant investment to be an anchor in this reinvestment,” Severn said. “If this will be allowed as we are proposing, it will reinvigorate not only this stretch, but all of the Golden Mile.”
Walmart and the architects who created the designs followed the city’s Golden Mile Small Area Plan guidelines, Severn said.
The city’s plan, created by the Frederick Planning Department with input from residents, business owners and developers, includes guidelines for zoning and design standards for businesses when they update their storefronts in the area.
Once the heart of a long stretch of booming retail shops on U.S. 40 that gave it the Golden Mile nickname, the mall now has only one store, John’s Hallmark, which sits at the far end of the struggling retail corridor between U.S. 15 and Interstate 270.
Now even that lone holdout in the mall is in the process of closing, John’s Hallmark owner, John Slocum, said Wednesday.
With the rest of the mall locked up, customers enter John’s Hallmark through the back door to shop. Slocum didn’t give a closing date, but he said it would be in the next few weeks.
Reaction to the Walmart proposal among aldermen and members of the public present at the meeting was mixed.
Alderman Carol Krimm (D) said the property is a major asset not just to the Golden Mile, but to the city’s retail sector as a whole. She said the design looks like an attempt to fit into the ideals the city is seeking.
“This is an attempt to work it out,” Krimm said. “I’m looking forward to hearing community input. I hope we take the plan to them. I don’t think it should be the obligation of the community to come here.”
Severn said the group plans to present the plans to residents in the area at a community meeting that has not been scheduled yet, possibly at the former site of BonTon in the mall. They will also present the plans to the Golden Mile Alliance at their meeting Tuesday.
The meetings will be held to gather community input on the project.
Alderman Shelley Aloi (R) said she was concerned about the effect of Walmart on other businesses.
“Traditionally, in communities where Walmart has come in as a competitor, a lot of companies go out of business because they can’t compete with Walmart,” she said. “This conversation has to be had.”
Dave Evans, a member of the Golden Mile Alliance board, made up of business owners, property owners, and residents, said he was speaking personally, but was in favor of the plan. He said Walmart would be a good tenant for the currently run-down space.
“I can’t believe Walmart would run the store and let shopping carts be strewn out, with shopping carts and trash in the creek,” he said. “I love the plan. ... I think it looks like a great plan for the west side of Frederick.”
Belinda Morton, vice president of the city’s Neighborhood Advisory Council 5, which represents the area, said she wasn’t in favor of a Walmart in the space.
“Having three Walmarts in about six miles in Frederick, that’s amazing,” she said, shaking her head. “There are small businesses up and down the Golden Mile that have said, ‘If it’s a Walmart that comes in, we’ll be gone.’”