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October 19, 2007

Magnificent Mayor

Roy Meachum

Thousands of words poured all out of the media for In the Street. The only time I heard Ron Young's name mentioned was by me. I explained to newcomers about how Frederick's long-time mayor created the festival they enjoyed.

This was not the 25th anniversary; I was there when Mayor Young led a straggling procession, of mostly downtown residents, in 1983. We marched from the Square Corner up to the Seventh Street fountain, joined on the way by other folks surprised to see us out. There were no booths or musicians that first autumn; the trappings started the next year.

The mayor played Pied Piper and we all trailed happily along; we celebrated another of his magnificent accomplishments. He had brought about Market Street's transformation into the 20th Century.

Mr. Young managed to get the utilities and phone company to take their Market Street wires off poles and bury them underground. Maybe for the first time since the city introduced paving, he had the sidewalks rebuilt; the process entailed eliminating the deep troughs that might have once been helpful when horses were the main transport. They are messy critters.

Then there's the Weinberg Center for the Arts. A proverb comes to mind: Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan child. Wherever the idea came for converting the old Tivoli Theatre into the city's performing arts center, the most important fact is Mayor Ron Young got it done.

When the county courts moved into the new building, on West Patrick, he led the charge to get City Hall out of the old Opera House on Market Street, the site now for Brewer's Alley. He installed municipal offices in the red brick mansion that builders finished during the Civil War.

Mayor Young served four terms; I was here for his fourth election (1985), which he won hands-down. Republicans literally despaired that they would ever take City Hall; they did the fifth time around. They had a lot of help from the incumbent. My columns did not make their job harder.

Looking at the Frederick he created, it is very possible that inwardly he knew the despair of Alexander the Great. The Macedonian hero was said to weep that there were no new worlds for him to conquer. With the lack of city projects the mayor might have felt unconsciously the same despair. Instead of crying, Ron Young put forth every effort to shed his local job. He made it.

The watershed of his 20 years in Frederick government - he put in four as alderman - came with Carroll Creek's massive flooding, in 1976. Gathering good people around him, the mayor attacked shattered downtown.

Sear's move off Patrick Street to a shopping mall symbolized where Frederick businesses were going. The flood was a catastrophe that turned to be the best thing that happened to the city's center.

The erosion of merchants' presence continued, but Ron Young and others, including property owner Dick Kline, were determined to hold on to the place of their childhood. They scratched for other enterprises to replace those that left. How well they succeeded can be seen along Market and Patrick streets today.

The key to saving Frederick was by making sure the creek wouldn't rise so high again. As the first step, the Young administration set about controlling the water flow. They succeeded, but the vagaries of the marketplace and finance slowed down the process of full realization. He left office without the buildings that he had envisioned providing fresh blood and air to his town. Mortgage rates were still sky high.

In the event, Ron Young masterminded the Carroll Creek Linear Park, which received recognition this week from Maryland's chapter of the American Planning Association. The honor came in the wake of the latest In the Street.

This column was sparked by the News-Post article on the award, which didn't even mention the mayor who fathered the linear park. And that brought realization that during In the Street, I hadn't heard even the name of the man who led that first celebratory march up Market Street, in 1983 - the year I moved to Frederick.

Ron Young was the magnificent mayor who envisioned and created Frederick as you know it.

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