News

Movie Theater Announced for Frederick Towne Mall Site

March 30, 2018 / / featured, News

By Mallory Panuska, Frederick News Post
Friday, March 30, 2018

WarehouseCinemasWith leather reclining chairs and alcoholic beverages to boot, a portion of the long-shuttered Frederick Towne Mall site could become the next destination spot for watching the latest new releases.

Representatives of a Hagerstown-based company announced Thursday they are leasing the east side portion of the property from owners West Frederick Center LLLP for development of a Warehouse Cinemas premium movie theater.

The company is a venture of Hagerstown-based HighRock Group, and representatives boast amenities that include first-run movies and reclining leather seats in a modern-industrial decor with a variety of food and drink options, including beer, wine and specialty drinks.

“Obviously, we’re excited,” Mayor Michael O’Connor said Thursday of the new project. “Our residents have been waiting for a long time to see something happen with that property, and after a couple of false starts, the new owners have apparently made contact with somebody who is signing on the lease.”

West Frederick Center LLLP, a limited liability limited partnership company that formed in January, bought the 37.35-acre site at 1301 W. Patrick St. in mid-February for $6 million. Frederick urologist Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin is listed as the resident agent of the company.

The mall was once the hub of the busy and vibrant Golden Mile but has sat vacant since 2013. The property went on the market in September 2016 after plans to construct a four-building shopping center with a 155,000-square-foot Walmart anchor store fell through.

The theater is set to take up only a portion of the mall property, and O’Connor said he is unsure if any prospective tenants are eyeing the rest of the space.

According to a news release from HighRock issued Thursday, full renovations are planned for the interior and a “major overhaul” is slated for the exterior of the property to accommodate the new project.

The company did not have a timeline for the theater project’s completion Thursday, but a news release said an opening is planned for sometime in 2018. Greg Mills, the chief operating officer of HighRock Group, declined to comment further via email Thursday on the lease details.

Warehouse Cinemas operates a similar theater outside of Hagerstown, but the company plans to make the Frederick location its “flagship” property, according to its website. The website also includes a virtual tour of what the inside is set to look like.

Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, said Thursday the planned theater is a perfect fit for the site, especially since it is set for development at the site of the former Hoyt’s Frederick Towne Mall Cinema 10 that was part of the old mall.

“The Golden Mile remains one of the strongest retail corridors in the city with more than 50,000 vehicle trips going past most of those retail sites every day, and the opportunity for both the developer and new retail business to come into the Golden Mile is just an outstanding opportunity,” he said. “We are delighted to see entertainment as a component of the retail experience to help both strengthen and stabilize the mall location. Considering it was a theater before [and] it’s going to be a theater again, that’s a great reuse of the property.”

Deb Reynolds, co-president of the Golden Mile Alliance, also commented on the new project Thursday on behalf of the organization’s board.

“I can speak for the whole board of directors and say we are very, very happy,” she said. “I think it’s going to make a great addition to the [Golden Mile] and the whole city in general.”

She added that she is excited to see a tenant bringing an entertainment venue, as she expects it will attract patrons from the wider region. She also hopes it will serve as the catalyst to attract more tenants.

Griffin said he plans to work closely with the new tenant on any permitting or other assistance needed as the company works through renovations.

“Anytime you do adaptive reuse at an old space, there is going to be upgrading utilities, water and sewer, upgrading electric, installing new signage and facade improvements, maybe parking lot improvements, a number of different permits,” he said.

Tony Checchia, a broker and the owner of Verita Real Estate, spent months working with the tenant on the lease and said via email Thursday that he is still working with the mall owner to submit a proposal for the rear portion of the property where the Ollie’s building sits for a potential site for the new Frederick Police Department headquarters. A task force developed a Request for Information for site options for the headquarters that went out to the public in January and the deadline to submit responses is Friday. Checchia said he planned to submit a proposal before the deadline.

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Westside Regional Park Progressing Behind the Scenes

February 12, 2018 / / News

By Mallory Panuska, Frederick News Post
Sunday, February 11, 2018

599645b0b9e26.imageAs members of the Westside Regional Park Task Force sift through options for developing the bulk of the Hargett Farm space into a multi-use recreational spot, other details of development are coming together on the side.

On Wednesday, the Board of Aldermen discussed a request to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the National Park Service to use space on the 130-acre, city-owned site for vehicle, equipment and materials storage in exchange for providing repairs and maintenance for the building and grounds. Park Service officials would also provide a presence at the property and help facilitate future growth and activity on the parkland through public outreach and educational opportunities as part of the working agreement.

The aldermen briefly discussed some of the details of the agreement and unofficially signed off on it. They will vote on it at an upcoming public hearing.

Members of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission are also set to discuss the document at their next meeting on Tuesday.

And on Monday, the city’s Planning Commission is set to get into the Westside Regional Park action with two other requests. One is a request to approve a final site plan for construction of three parking lots on the site as part of the realignment of Butterfly Lane. The other is a request to approve a preliminary forest conservation plan associated with that site plan.

The realignment of Butterfly Lane is the first step toward development of the property. The Board of Aldermen approved $2 million in the current budget for construction costs associated with the road project. In August, the board approved a design contract to begin the work, which is set to commence in the summer.

Plans for the amenities in the park are still in the works.

In the beginning of 2017, the board approved a concept plan that sectioned off areas of the site and listed facilities, amenities and infrastructure that could go in each. Shortly after the plan approval, the Westside Regional Park Task Force was formed to research the details and narrow down the options.

In the fall, members of the task force and Parks and Recreation Commission both respectively gave positive recommendations for a request to construct a memorial playground on an area of the future park tentatively slated as the “Festival Area,” which is adjacent to Butterfly Lane just east of farm structures on-site.

Sophie & Madigan’s Playground will pay homage to the memory of young sisters Sophie and Madigan Lillard, who passed away five years ago in a fire at their Myersville home. Sophie was 6 and Madison was 3.

Shortly after the tragic event, their family members created a nonprofit group called Sophie & Madigan’s Playground to raise money for a playground to honor the girls.

Bob Smith, the city’s deputy director of parks and recreation, said officials are working on a memorandum of understanding between the city and the nonprofit for construction of the playground at the park. Once the document is finished, the Board of Aldermen will discuss it at a workshop and eventually vote on it at a public hearing.

If all goes as expected, dirt should begin moving on the playground in the summer.

 

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Mall Rebirth Coming Soon!

December 5, 2017 / / News

MallBy Katherine Heerbrandt, TheFrederickExtra.com
Monday, December 4, 2017

Get ready for some big news about the former Frederick Towne Mall. Representing a group of investors, local realtor and broker Tony Checchia promises a topnotch recreation/entertainment venue as soon as the ink dries. As for the reveal, Checchia is bound by a nondisclosure agreement until the paperwork’s in order, but called the coming attraction “a gamechanger.”

“I can tell you personally, from the perspective of a city resident, that I am extremely excited about what we are bringing to the mall,” he said. “It would be a game changer, and is a very compatible use with the facility.”

Checchia, owner and broker at VCRE-x.com (Verita Real Estate) hopes to share the details about the project in the coming weeks. The group has a letter of intent, and Checchia said the move is a direct landlord to tenant negotiation. He did share that the proposal is one that developers are heavily invested in, and one that the community will embrace.

The Frederick Towne Mall was sold to Dr. Mohammad Mohuiddin, a Frederick-based urologist, and other investors for “$6 million plus,” according to the seller’s attorney, David Severn. 

The 38-acre property on West Patrick Street went out for bid on an online auction site in December 2016, with a minimum bid of $2.5 million. The owner, Rockwell Capital of White Plains, N.Y. purchased the property in 2007. The City of Frederick approved permits, with zoning conditions attached, for a Wal-Mart store, but Wal-Mart backed out last fall. Wal-Mart opened a super store on Rt. 26 in Frederick last month.

Checchia’s also got an offer for the newly-elected mayor and board regarding a site for a new Frederick Police headquarters. The strip of former stores abutting the Frederick Towne Mall, including Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and a church, has the requisite space to accommodate a 40,000 – 50,000 sq.ft city police headquarters.  “I personally feel that it is an economically feasible option that would be tremendous stabilizing for the entire west end of the community,” he said.

The selection of a site for a new police headquarters has been in the works for over a decade. A task force is reviewing past studies and should have recommendations for a request for information by January or February, according to Mayor-elect Michael O’Connor (D.) Although the city’s comprehensive plan calls for a downtown location, O’Connor said he “appreciates and would love to see a more sustained presence on west side.”

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Task Force Members Hear Proposal for Future Westside Regional Park

November 16, 2017 / / News

By Mallory Panuska, Frederick News Post
Thursday, November 16, 2017

59f3b498f095f.imageThe latest proposal for 60 acres of the vacant Hargett Farm property is a fully managed and leased 95,000-square-foot swim and sports center and 10-field artificial turf complex.

The proposal, which would cost an estimated $32 million of city money, is one of several options that members of the Westside Regional Park Task Force will consider as they research the best recommendation for the future multi-use park on the roughly 150-acre site along Butterfly Lane.

John Wack, president of Virginia-based Eastern Sports Management, presented details of the proposal to task force members at a meeting Wednesday.

The company develops and manages sports properties along the East Coast, including the Jeff Rouse Swim and Sport Center in Stafford County, Virginia, where subcommittee members are set to conduct a site visit Dec. 1.

Bob Smith, the city’s deputy director of parks and recreation, said the group is in the exploratory phase and considering all options for the park, from development details to funding.

“We are completely open,” Smith said after the meeting. “The task force is exploring all options. … The primary objective is to explore different relationships we could find.”

The task force formed in the spring with a mission to tackle a series of goals, which include completing the park’s design and engineering, overseeing implementation of the approved bubble plan and developing design standards for the park. At the close of their research, group members will make a recommendation to the mayor and Board of Aldermen.

The park is set to come to fruition with both public and private dollars with varying options on the table in terms of management and amenities.

In January, the sitting Board of Aldermen passed a $98.5 million “bubble plan” for the park. The plan includes sections, or bubbles, for amenities such as open space, walking and running trails, sports fields, picnic areas, gardens, playgrounds, picnic pavilions, an indoor pool and a water park. Wack’s proposal is for 60 acres of the total property, which task force members said provides flexibility for the rest of the land. Wack also presented details of other projects the company has completed with a variety of business models. The preferred model for the Hargett Farm property, Wack said, is for the company to design, construct and operate the facilities. The total estimated $35 million construction cost would come primarily from the city, with the company chipping in about $3 million. When construction is completed, Eastern Sports Management would sell the building and field complex back to the city and lease it back for 20 years to operate with rent defined as a split of net cash.

Members questioned Wednesday why the $35 million price is so much lower than the $98.5 million bubble plan cost. Zack Kershner, the city’s director of public works, said the bubble plan includes more amenities such as a stadium, water park, and Department of Public Works maintenance building. The estimate also includes money for internal road construction and for adaptive reuse of historic buildings on the site.

Smith said the task force is also looking into partnering with the Maryland Stadium Authority for funding help on the project. He said other plans and options will also become part of the research materials as the task force continues its mission.

The group was initially given a year to come up with a recommendation, but Smith said Wednesday that members will likely meet for longer than that.

Wednesday’s meeting was the last of the year, with the next meeting set Jan. 17.