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"Goings on on the Golden Mile"

Justin M. Kiska

(10/2016) At one time, the Golden Mile in Frederick was the economic juggernaut of not only the city but the entire county. It was the place to be with the Frederick Towne Mall anchoring the Route 40 West retail corridor. As time marched on and new development occurred, the Golden Mile lost its shine. First it was Route 85 that began attracting everyoneís attention, then downtown Frederick had its renaissance, now Route 26 is the place everyone is flocking to.

About six years ago, Frederick Mayor Randy McClement brought together a group of residents, business owners, and property owners to form The Golden Mile Alliance, a group that would help advocate for and work toward revitalizing the Golden Mile, now an area suffering from more misperceptions than actual problems. Mayor McClement said he wanted to help bring the Golden Mile back to its former glory and he put his money where his mouth was, helping this new group to form and supporting it until the GMA was able to spin off and become its own independent non-profit, much in the same way the Downtown Frederick Partnership had done.

I was one of the individuals first appointed by the mayor to the original Board and have served as one of the groupís executive officers since, the last three years as president.

When the GMA was coming together, the Golden Mile, and the old mall site in particular, were in the news quite a bit as it was announced the property, which had been sitting empty for far too long, was going to be redeveloped into a brand new shopping center, anchored by a WalMart Super Center. Not too many weeks ago, the news broke that WalMart had withdrawn from the long anticipated project. During the five years in between, a lot of things went on with the project, but for the sake of this piece, Iím just going to pick up where we are now.

The redevelopment of the mall site into the new Fredericktowne Center was, without question, going to be a big step forward to the revitalization of cityís West End. Whether you like WalMart or not, the old abandoned mall was finally going to come down and a new shopping center was going to take its place, with new life and business coming to the area. Without the anchor of the Fredericktowne Center, the plans are now on hold, with many saying its back to the drawing board to start over from square one.

There are those out there now saying, "See, we told you the Golden Mile was dead. This is proof."

That canít be further from the truth. WalMart withdrawing from the deal can be blamed on a number of factors but again, that isnít the point of this article. I know everyone directly involved with the project did everything they could to make it happen and even at the eleventh hour tried to keep it from falling apart. In the end, thereís no denying, it was a huge setback.

However, the redevelopment of the mall is only one piece of the plan to revitalize the Golden Mile. While everything to do with the mall was going on, in the meantime, the old State Police Barracks came down to make way for a new Wawa, which will be opening this fall, along with an emergency care medical facility. Businesses have continued to open along Route 40, and properties have undertaken renovations to give their buildings fresh new looks.

Itís not all about the commercial and retail though. Beautiful new residential developments are planned for the old VFW site and Summers Farm, as well as the new Butterfly Ridge Elementary School. Road improvements continue to be made, even though sometimes it is more obvious than others.

Everything takes time. We would all love to wake up tomorrow morning and the Golden Mile be golden again, but thatís not how it works. Who remembers when downtown Frederick was literally falling apart and said to be the most dangerous place to go? Now look at it. Through the hard work of so many, including various city administrations and the Downtown Frederick Partnership, downtown Frederick is booming again. That can and will happen on the Golden Mile.

In part, this is going to happen because of the cityís Golden Mile Small Area Plan, which lays out a plan for the area for ten, twenty, twenty-five years from now. The Golden Mile didnít lose its luster over night, so itís going to take time to get it back.

There is one other issue that particularly upsets me. Even with the changes going on, there is still a mindset that the Golden Mile area is unsafe. Some people even say they wonít go to Route 40 because of the crime. The facts however, point out the reality of the situation. The Golden Mile corridor, according the Frederick Police Departmentís own reports and crime statistics, is no better or worse than any other area of Frederick. Unfortunately, that is not the kind of news that gets reported.

Like other areas of the city, crime is actually dropping. Again though, information like this doesnít always make it out to the general public and people end up relying on anecdotes or rumors as facts.

Clearly, I have a vested interest in the Golden Mile, but I am also one of the first to admit it has its problems too. But there are a lot of people working very hard to revitalize the West End of Frederick City. In the end, a thriving Route 40 corridor benefits everyone.

Read other articles by Justin Kiska