The historical uniqueness of Frederick’s Birely Tannery site is slated for incorporation into the latest proposed downtown hotel and conference center plans following a recent designation from the Maryland Historical Trust.
The trust announced in a Feb. 7 letter that the tannery building and archaeological site at East Patrick and Carroll streets belong on the National Register of Historic Places. The determination is based on results of an independent investigation into its historic significance.
Now, city officials, hotel developer Plamondon Hospitality Partners, and the Department of Housing and Community Development are collaborating with the trust to determine how to preserve the site as project plans progress.
Plans for the 207-room Marriott and 24,000-square-foot conference center are based on a combination of public and private dollars. Plamondon Hospitality Partners is expected to pay $53 million for the hotel portion of the project.
The Frederick Board of Aldermen, Frederick County Council, state budget funding, the Department of Housing and Community Development and other entities were initially set to provide the remaining $31 million for construction of the conference center. But some funding is up in the air, including the state’s portion.
The trust’s announcement about historic significance seems to disagree with a separate investigation that Baltimore-based consulting firm Kann Partners performed over a roughly seven-month period in 2016.
“The Trust does not concur with the preparer’s recommendation that the Birely Tannery building is not eligible for listing in the National Register,” the trust’s letter said.
Plamondon Hospitality Partners retained Kann Partners to research and facilitate applications related to historic preservation of the site.
The final report concluded the tannery building was ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places based on evaluation of its significance to local tanning operations. The consultants researched elements such as the historical significance of the site connected to events, people, design and information potential.
That initial determination spurred speculation that developers might demolish the tannery building for the hotel project. Patti Mullins, city public information coordinator, said the MHT’s designation does not preclude the tannery building from demolition, it simply ensures the history of the site will be preserved as the project moves forward.
In a Feb. 10 city news release about the designation, Donald Kann, president of Kann Partners, was quoted as saying that the trust “confirmed his assessment of the site’s important archeological context.” The release also said Kann anticipates working collaboratively with the state organization and other partners as the project moves forward.
Kann did not return three calls for comment.
Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, said the MHT was involved in the historic designation of the tannery building because the hotel project is slated to receive state funds.
“Whenever the state is involved in a project, it goes through the Maryland Historic Trust to evaluate whether something is eligible to be on the national register or not,” he explained.
The city’s Historic Preservation Commission will also make its own determination about whether the tannery building belongs on the National Register. The investigation is independent from the trust’s investigation and has not begun, Griffin said.
A rich history
According to the trust’s letter, Frederick was a hub for the tanning industry in the early 20th century, with as many as eight tanneries in operation. The Birely Tannery was established in 1830 and operated until 1952. The current building was constructed in 1909.
According to the trust’s letter, after fully examining the building, researchers determined the building “retains sufficient integrity to reflect its association with the industrial history of Frederick.”
The letter goes on to say the site has “good subsurface integrity with intact deposits beneath fill, excellent preservation of material remains, and has demonstrated potential to yield important information regarding the development of the tanning industry through the time period.”
The letter says the site has 13 tannery-related features, including four tanning pits, one waste pit, stone paving and the remains of several structural foundations.
“The site still contains buried surfaces and features that survive beneath the various fill and disturbance actions that have occurred on the site during the mid to late 20th [century],” the letter said. “These newly discovered resources represent the site’s continuation into the project area, as expected, and contain an important record of the history, development and operations of the Birely Tannery.”
Griffin said city officials, the developer, and DHCD will now collaborate with members of the trust and develop a mitigation plan for the project.
“The plan will determine how to mitigate impact, or to make certain the history of the site is not lost as the project is developed,” Griffin said. “It will make sure it is developed in a harmonious way with the history of the site.”
The next step is development of a site plan, which Griffin said is awaiting funding approval from the state.
“There are concepts out there about what this project is, but the actual design of this project is not completed because it’s a function of the budget,” he said.
The proposed hotel and conference center property at 200 and 212 E. Patrick St. is owned by a business entity formed by members of the Randall family. The Randall family also owns the parent company of The Frederick News-Post. The tannery building is at the back of the property at 212 E. Patrick St.