East End of Carroll Creek Grows and Evolves
By Matt Edens | Photography by Turner Photography Studio
Combining $60 million worth of flood control engineering and $27 million in park improvements over the past four decades, Frederick’s Carroll Creek Park has been, without a doubt, the most ambitious development project in the city’s history.
But according to Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, the massive public investment has paid off tremendously: “We have seen the development of Carroll Creek Park yield several hundred jobs and several hundred million [dollars] in additional development,” he says.
And there’s more on the way, especially along the promenade’s most recent phase.
Completed in 2016, the stretch of Carroll Creek from East Street to East Patrick Street quickly established a distinctive identity. “We signed our lease the month they opened that section of the creek,” says Brian Ogden, who co-owns Attaboy Beer with his wife, Carly. Just off the creek on Sagner Avenue, Attaboy was the first in what’s now a cluster of four craft breweries that bracket the park.
“It becomes a mini pub crawl,” says Jim Steinhardt of Steinhardt Brewing Co. “Everyone has their favorite, but a lot of folks do come and make the circuit.” In fact, enough folks come and make the circuit that Steinhardt is looking to expand, adding dedicated event space to its tasting room in Union Mills, the redeveloped 19th-century hosiery mill complex that sprawls along the creek’s north bank. “It’s just beautiful with a lot of windows,” says Steinhardt. “We’re getting lots of calls from people who want to host weddings or rehearsal dinners.”
Next door to Steinhardt, Idiom Brewing Co. has also taken on additional space at Union Mills and, across the creek, both Smoketown Creekside and Attaboy have expanded. “Three months before the pandemic we opened up the Barrel House,” says Ogden.
“It effectively doubled our size and allowed us to do a lot of different beers and allowed us to have an event space without closing down our tap room.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“It’s just a lot of growth down there and it’s all positive,” says restauranteur Niko Negas, who has his own plans for the creek. Negas and his fiancé, Mary Custer—owners of Roasthouse Pub on Urbana Pike—will add Union Mills Public house to their portfolio this spring. “It looks like our timeline is the end of March/beginning of April. We’re probably close to 90 percent complete,” says Negas. The first phase of the project centers around an event space/music venue with seating for more than 200.
“The look and feel and mood of the room is paying reverence to the old mill, with exposed brick and architectural features,” says Negas. “We are also going to have a full bridal suite/green room to be used by both brides and performers. Bringing in regional or national acts, they won’t even enter into contracts without that [green room].”
Union Mills Public House will also add the creek’s first sit-down restaurant east of Carroll Street. “During phase one we’ll be serving out of our pizza oven, which allows us to do everything from pizzas to hot appetizers and hot sandwiches. The full kitchen—let’s call that phase one-and-a-half—it’s probably about a month behind the event space,” says Negas.
“We’re real excited about what Niko’s doing there – it’ll have a built-in food option,” says Steinhardt. Prohibited by ordinance from serving food, the area’s breweries regularly host food trucks, but according to Ogden, more dining options are always welcome. “There are people who just don’t want a food truck experience,” he says.
The much-anticipated opening also represents an important turning point for the Union Mills project. “With that and the expansion of Steinhardt, the build-out will be complete,” says Jim Mackintosh of Mackintosh Realtors, who has managed leasing the $20-million, 65,000-square-foot project by Washington, D.C.-based Douglas Development. “I don’t know of any other firm than Douglas that could do such a quality redevelopment,” says Mackintosh, who says the company has more in store for the area. “Douglas has the old McHenry site at the corner of East and Patrick and the Gilbert’s site [across Patrick Street from Union Mills] and they’re doing some back-of-the-envelope planning for each.”
Meanwhile, Negas is also thinking ahead. Once the restaurant is up and running, next up is Cutch Cidery in conjunction with the neighboring McCutcheon’s Apple Products. “We’ll be considered Downtown’s first hard cidery and serving cider on site and distributing it locally, and grow it from there,” says Negas, who hints at even more to come: “Rumor has it the final phase would be an indoor upper mezzanine and a rooftop bar on the creek—we envision that within 3 to 4 years of opening the business. The view up there if you look east and north, it’s beautiful,” says Negas.
Public House patrons may not be the only ones enjoying city views, either. Mackintosh, for one, feels that the east end of Carroll Creek may be the next frontier for city living. “The rents for Downtown are very good and the occupancy is phenomenal,” says Mackintosh. “Look at the condos that have already sold at Visitation [Academy on E. 2nd, Street, site of a redevelopment mixing a boutique hotel in the former Catholic girl’s school with new condominiums on its 3-acre campus]. If anything, it’s the time to build on the creek,” says Mackintosh.
Conifer Realty—fresh from developing Sinclair Way, a 72-unit apartment complex tucked between Patrick, South and Jefferson streets on the west end of Downtown—thinks so, too. The company is currently seeking to develop “Overlook East,” 79 new apartments at the old Wayside Inn property on East Patrick Street, a few steps from the bridge that crosses Carroll Creek. “I would love to say it’s going to be soon, but we’re still in the process. Our goal would be to close in the third quarter of this year, but that depends on how things work with the city and the financing. Once those pieces come together, we have about an 18-month construction time,” says Andrew Hansen, Conifer’s vice president of development. In addition to the new construction, the development would also include six apartments in the old Wayside Inn, built circa 1820 as a private residence and converted to a restaurant and lodging early in the automobile era. “The house itself has a lot of amazing history to it,” says Hansen. “We definitely plan a very major renovation.”
West of the brewery cluster, Wormald Homes remains committed to developing the Galleria site, just across East Street from the MARC station. “Our intention is still for residential development. We’re pursuing an apartment use with ground-level retail,” says Ken Wormald, managing partner. But much as Conifer’s Overlook East development, the city’s approval process takes time. “I think everyone is in alignment that we want to see development Downtown, it’s just that we have to see what regulations are inhibiting the development,” says Wormald.
At issue, according to Wormald, is the city’s 75-unit-per-acre cap on density. To make the project financially feasible, the company believes it will need to build 225 apartments on the 1.7-acre site. “The market rents have improved, so that’s helped, although construction costs haven’t helped,” says Wormald. But even if the city and Wormald work out the density issue, it will be some time before anyone moves in: “It’s going to be a number of years before we can bring anything to the market,” says Wormald.
It also might be a while before anything happens on an opportunity in the center of the brewery cluster: the county-owned property at the corner of Sagner and Wisner streets. Fronting the creek, the 1.5-acre site is currently home to the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development and a large parking lot. But it has redevelopment potential. “My sense is that … may be one of those properties that could be consolidated to allow creekside development,” says Griffin. “With proper planning that could be a very cool project,” adds Mackintosh. But the property’s future is up to the county government, and according to Rick Harcum, the county’s chief administrative officer, “there are no other plans for the property at this time.”
ON THE HORIZON
In the interim, there will be new housing on the creek, albeit a bit farther afield. “You’re going to have 1,000 homes at Renn Quarter,” says Mackintosh, referring to the massive 223-acre mixed-use development currently under construction near Frederick Municipal Airport. “The east side obviously provides the largest parcels of land for redevelopment and because of the investment the city has made in Carroll Creek, the connectivity has gotten better and better,” Griffin says. “The whole goal is to put people on foot, by bike and by transit into Downtown to support those businesses in places like Union Mills.”
Renn Quarter may not be the only promising development on the creek’s horizon, either. At the beginning of February, the Frederick County Council approved $2.5 million dollars to assist the city in purchasing land for the long-discussed Downtown hotel and conference center project. “The original concept for Carroll Creek always envisioned having a major catalyst in the form of a hotel and conference center as an anchor, says Griffin, “Plamondon [Hospitality Partners, the hotel’s developer] seems very determined to pull it off and the fact that the city and county are still at the table is a good sign.”
A Downtown hotel would be a welcome neighbor by many businesses, especially those on the creek. “There are a lot of people that come in here and they’re from out of state or Montgomery County and they want to stay overnight,” says Steinhardt. Ogden adds “People are wary of spending public money [on the hotel project], but I think it’ll be a great thing for our town.”
But whether people come to spend the night, move into an apartment or merely sample the brews, it’s clear that more activity is coming to Carroll Creek’s east end. “We’re excited,” says Ogden. “The more people there are down here the more it helps it become a great part of town.”