Maryland local leaders participate in a walking tour of historic Downtown Frederick, MD.
Nearly two dozen Maryland members of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council met last Thursday for a Downtown Revitalization Strategies workshop sponsored by Smart Growth America and 1000 Friends of Maryland. Frederick, MD Mayor Randy McClement hosted the event, providing an in-depth look at the city’s revitalization successes. Following the workshop, Richard Griffin, Director of Economic Development, and Kara Norman, Executive Director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership, led participants on a tour of Downtown Frederick that highlighted revitalization initiatives.
Mayor McClement kicked off the workshop by describing the core of Frederick’s approach to revitalization. “The City’s concentration is on Downtown Frederick. Although Frederick is not just a downtown, but 20 square miles, the downtown is the thing that drives the city.” He continued by asserting that much of Frederick’s success owes to strong partnerships. “You cannot underestimate the power of partnerships. Find them, enhance them, and use them. Every city has groups that are interested in standing up to help,” he said.
McClement emphasized the importance of focusing on a community’s unique assets. “There is no magic bullet. There is not one thing we’ve done, but a series of things. You need to find that special thing about your town and capitalize on that,” he said.
The group discussed the challenges of finding the assets in their own communities. They noted that it would be helpful for other local leaders in Maryland to visit and look at their communities with fresh eyes. Councilmember Martin Brubaker of the City of Hagerstown, MD noted that even residents often don’t realize how special their community is until an outsider identifies its assets.
Chief of Staff Dannielle Glaros of Prince George’s County, MD asked if Frederick’s demographics have been changing as the downtown continues to revitalize. Joe Adkins, Deputy Director of Planning for Frederick, replied that the downtown population hasn’t changed drastically since the 2000 Census, although now more empty nesters are moving downtown. He noted that the downtown has very affordable housing, and that most people that work or own small businesses in the downtown also live there.
Richard Griffin and Kara Norman described the joint efforts, successes, and challenges of the Department of Economic Development and the Downtown Frederick Partnership. “The great thing about Frederick is that we are all willing to work together. Even when we are not headed in the same direction, we work together to get through it. This is more important than anything else,” Norman said.
Griffin described the relationship between the different groups at play in Frederick’s downtown revitalization. “The city is about setting the stage with policies and infrastructure. The non-profits help promote it and create meaning. The private sector is the one putting in all the money.”
Mayor McClement described his vision for Frederick’s future. “The future of Frederick is our character as a welcoming community. The job of elected officials is to build on that character so we continue to be a destination. The future is doing things now to keep what we have strong. It’s finding the money and the willpower to do it.”