FRED Awards Recognize Commercial Real Estate
By Karen Gardner
Commercial real estate transactions mark the foundation of economic expansion, so in 2017 the Frederick County Office of Economic Development began recognizing the people and businesses that make these deals happen. Except for the pandemic year, Frederick Real Estate Dealmakers (FRED) Awards have been an annual event since then.
“Its purpose is to recognize the tremendous impact of commercial real estate projects in the prior year,” says Beth Woodring, director of business attraction and marketing for the economic development offices. “This event recognizes projects that were completed in 2020 and 2021. What we mean when we say commercial real estate projects are expansions and new companies.”
Her office focuses on two areas: One is business retention and expansion, while the other is marketing to firms scouting for new locations. “We couldn’t do this without our partners in commercial real estate,” Woodring says. “These are all critical partners of the Office of Economic Development efforts.”
Deal of the Year
One of the industries Frederick County targets is life sciences. “The timeline for that has accelerated,” Woodring says. The need for vaccines and treatments has tightened the time-line for attracting new businesses from more than two years to a year or less. This has spurred biotech companies to look at properties that can be quickly readied for production.
Australian-based Ellume is one such company. Ellume’s choice of Progress Labs at Center 85 for its U.S. manufacturing site was named Deal of the Year.
Ellume’s move to its new space in Frederick became official when the company signed the deal in May 2021 and the company started operations in December with 195 employees. The Brisbane-based Ellume needed manufacturing space in the United States to fulfill a contract with the Department of Defense. By the end of 2023, the company expects to employ 1,400 people in its 215,000-square-foot Frederick space.
“This project is an example of a collaborative effort,” Woodring says. Matan Companies developed Progress Labs at Center 85 on Buckeystown Pike to attract companies like Ellume. Ellume produces at-home COVID-19 test kits and the new center has the capacity to produce 15,000 kits per month.
Dealmaker of the Year
Tony Checchia lives and breathes commercial real estate. Checchia is the founder and broker of VCRE in Frederick. He’s been selling and leasing property in Frederick since 1989. In the last two years, Checchia closed 65 deals, among the most productive period of his career.
“The last two years created some of the most difficult and rewarding times of my 33-year career,” Checchia says. “Difficult, of course, because of the pandemic. Rewarding because it created an opening of opportunities for those who wanted to take a chance in commercial real estate. There’s a misperception that retail and office space would be hit the hardest. What we experienced was right-sizing.”
Frederick’s commercial sector showed its resiliency, and business continued, although not always in the same form. While venues suffered, other businesses found ways to keep going. “The entrepreneurial spirit in Frederick is overwhelming,” Checchia says.
Pandemic or not, Checchia sees his job as helping people through the complexities of real estate. “Sometimes a transaction takes a couple of months, sometimes it takes a year,” he says.
“There is so much diversity and challenge. That’s why I switched from residential to commercial,” a move he made early in his career.
“I’ve always prided myself in being a creative problem-solver,” he adds. “I figure out how to get it done. Over the last two years, I’ve grown more and been pushed more, and a lot has to do with the four folks I work with.” It also has to do with Frederick. “Frederick is poised to grow in a positive way.”
Tim Shanklin credits his FRED Lifetime Achievement Award to the ease of doing business in Frederick. Speaking about the county’s economic development staff, he says, “They’re really user-friendly. They fast-track things. They understand the client’s needs, the business needs. … It’s an amazing group.”
Shanklin, 70, is a sales and leasing associate for Tyler Duncan Realty Partners. He has worked in commercial real estate in most of central Maryland for much of his career and has found Frederick County to be the easiest jurisdiction in which to do business. “When you’re plugged into an environment that’s designed and built around a model for success, it’s hard to screw up,” he says.
Shanklin and his wife volunteer at the Soup Kitchen every Tuesday evening. Naturally he is a cheerleader for the community. “Frederick is like your favorite slipper. You slide them on and they don’t hurt your feet, they’re just very comfortable.”
The award is icing on the cake for a career that Shanklin loves. “I love my office,” he says. “It’s a great company to be with.” In his job, he gets to work with excellent partners, he adds. He’s also thankful because he had open-heart surgery last September, and that helped him appreciate what is important in life.
Ashleigh Kiggans is a vice president with MacRo Commercial Real Estate. “I work with a lot of start-up small businesses and nonprofits, especially those involved with the fitness industry and mental health,” she says. “It’s kind of where I seem to end up. I think it’s hugely important to pay attention to the smaller guys.”
Recently, her job has included helping her clients remain optimistic about their future. She recalled talking to a nonprofit professional who was feeling pessimistic, and she turned this around by pointing out all the necessary services the nonprofit performs. “I also enjoy working with the small business owner,” she says.
In working with small businesses and nonprofits, she asks for what she calls a “brain dump.” “I ask them, ‘What’s your perfect space?’ and I get an idea of their budgeting,” she says. She then looks at landlords who are flexible enough to work with smaller clients. Fitness clients can be tough, because they are looking for good parking and a soundproof space, but fitness is a growing industry in Frederick.
Kiggans recorded more than $18 million in transactions last year. The award may be for an emerging dealmaker, but Kiggans has been in commercial real estate for 11 years, seven in Frederick.
“It’s not often that new agents come into this,” she says. Kiggans is 34, female and Black, which makes her stand out in the business. “My goal is to diversify [the industry] by age, gender and race,” she says. She hopes to mentor new agents just as MacRo founder Rocky Macintosh mentored her.
Creative Adaptive Reuse
Middletown’s Memorial Hall has been nearly vacant for 50 years, but the early-20th century building will soon become a mix of apartments and retail spaces. The building’s brick façade will remain, along with hints of its uses as a movie theater and volunteer fire hall. More recently, it was a warehouse, and in the last few years, Middletown High School’s track team used it as a winter workout space.
Ingrid Smith, one of the property’s owners, says the building will contain 12 apartments, four per floor, along with two apartments above the retail space and a penthouse apartment. There will also be a rooftop deck that offers views of the Middletown Valley. The project began about 18 months ago, and the town of Middletown and Middletown Main Street provided their support.
Middletown now has restaurants within walking distance of the building, and plans call for a coffee shop in one of the building’s retail spaces. “You have that charming small town feeling with modern amenities,” Smith says. She expects the project to be complete this fall.
Additional FRED awards were given to the Union Mills retail project on Carroll Creek Park (Modern Masterpiece) and the Hood College Innovation in Training Institute (Most Valuable Partner).