Our View: Farewell to downtown?

Posted: April 26, 2013

As we ponder this latest bolt from the blue — Frederick County entertaining an “unsolicited” proposal to move its governmental offices to an as-yet-undisclosed location beyond the Winchester city limits — we can’t help but think (like Dorothy vis-a-vis Kansas in “The Wizard of Oz”) that it’s not 1994 anymore.

That was the year, if you recall, that city and council officials — after much discussion punctuated by a hue-and-cry from a concerned citizenry — hammered out a deal that would keep the county offices downtown. That agreement expired on Jan. 1, 2006.

All things being equal — or static at the 1994 status quo — we’d prefer that Frederick’s physical seat of governance remain where it’s been for the better part of three centuries. In downtown Winchester.

But all things are not equal. The county is growing. Its population — 55,000 when its current North Kent office complex opened in 1997 — now stands at 80,000 and is expected to reach almost 120,000 by 2030. That said, Frederick is rapidly outgrowing its 100,000 square feet of office space.

Details of the current proposal, tendered 10 days ago by an entity known only as Frederick County Center LLC, are sketchy at best, and the situation has been described as “fluid.” What we do know is that, if the project does take flight, the LLC will provide land and financing for a 150,000-square-foot complex at a site envisioned, says Board of Supervisors Chairman Dick Shickle, as a “significant economic catalyst.” The developer would also purchase the county’s current office building.

Foremost among the proposal’s myriad unknown elements, as we see it, is a sweetener that would make the county’s departure more palatable to the city. The certainty of a tax-paying tenant at 107 N. Kent St. would be a start.

“If the right deal is struck, I believe it could work to the best interests of the city and county,” Mr. Shickle says. “It’s all in the deal.”

Much as it was . . . in 1994.