"Challenging renovation begins," Gazette.net, July 10, 2008.Frederick, Maryland
Thurmont company has 18 months to stabilize, rehabilitate historic building in downtown Frederick
by Keith L. Martin | Gazette.Net Staff Writer
The building, which dates back to the 1880s, has sat vacant and unattended since the City of Frederick purchased it 24 years ago before construction of the adjacent Carroll Creek Parking Deck. Past attempts to sell the building were unsuccessful, but in August, Frederick’s Board of Aldermen agreed to give the building to Fitzgerald’s Heavy Timber Construction of Thurmont for rehabilitation. The company has worked on several projects in the county, including covered bridge and barn restoration.
Last month, the city and the rehabilitation specialists agreed on a contract, giving the company 18 months to stabilize and renovate the building twice marked for demolition by the city’s code enforcement division.
‘‘Believe it or not, we’ve been in buildings in worse shape,” said Dean Fitzgerald, president and CEO of the company. ‘‘... We will do the best we can and there is always a chance of losing the building and having to start all over again, but we don’t want that.”
Under the contract, Fitzgerald’s Heavy Timber received the building and paid an additional $60,000 for four parking spaces. The company also posted a performance bond of $350,000 to ensure the building’s rehabilitation within 18 months.
In that timeframe, the rehabilitation must be complete and have a certificate of occupancy from the city. If Fitzgerald’s terminates the contract, the city gets to keep all improvements made to the building without compensation.
So far, Fitzgerald estimates the company has spent $30,000 before reaching an agreement with the city.
‘‘The real challenge is making it work economically,” he said. ‘‘It still remains to be seen. If the building comes down, I lose my shirt ... I’m the one taking all the risks.”
Frederick Mayor W. Jeff Holtzinger (R) praised Fitzgerald’s team as ‘‘outstanding” based on previous work, but noted a long road from contract to completion.
‘‘It may be close to performing a miracle,” the mayor said. ‘‘...While it seems to me to be a huge expense, I believe they are good historic preservationists and this is their type of project.”
Former city facilities administrator Pat Keegin agreed, calling the Fisher Building ‘‘the last little gem to be completed in that section” of the creek area, but right now, it is ‘‘an eyesore.”
Fitzgerald said the concept for the rehabilitated building is a three-floor office, complete with 1 ? bathrooms and entrances to the basement and first floor. It will purposefully keep its historic warehouse look.
‘‘It was a warehouse and we want it to look like a warehouse,” said Fitzgerald, a nine-year downtown resident. ‘‘But also to blend it into a nice office space comfortable to work in, meaning it is quiet.”
The company will present initial plans to the Historic Preservation Commission at a July 16 hearing. The company’s documentation specialist, Laura FitzGerald, compiled a 28-page history of the building, from its use in the 1880s as a warehouse for the Birely Brothers grocery store to its sale to the city in 1984 by Robert and Ann Fisher.
‘‘It is an important building to the city,” FitzGerald said. ‘‘It ties to the city’s industrial period ...and as small as it is, it is important.”
Fitzgerald notes that the first changes passersby will notice are barriers to ‘‘quarantine” the building. That includes during the removal of the numerous vines that encase the structure.
‘‘When you pull those off, we know sections [of the building] will fall out,” he said. ‘‘It looks like it is in bad shape now and it will get worse before it gets better.”
Lubozynski notes that other work – such as new timbers for the roof – will be done at the company’s sawmill near Emmitsburg, trucked in and put in place by crane. The goal for the company is to get masonry work done before this winter.
‘‘The hope is that it remains standing long after we’re gone,” Fitzgerald said. ‘‘I hope our great-great-grandkids come back someday and say ‘Who was dumb enough to do this back in 2008?’ We aren’t doing this for us, we’re doing it so they have something to look back on in the future.”
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