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As Long as We Remember...

May 1, 2014

The Battle for Coke

Blaine R. Young

I have been reading with interest the current discussion and debate at the City of Frederick concerning the old Coca-Cola plant on North Market Street. It seems to be a classic clash between historic preservation and economic development (or in this case redevelopment).


From what I’ve seen so far, I think Mayor Randy McClement has gotten it right.


The Coca-Cola Company bottled and distributed Coke from their plant on North Market Street for approximately 60 years. That was a different time, when instead of gigantic facilities serving a large area, the companies that actually produced products and sold them here in the United States had smaller plants spread out around the countryside. Coca-Cola was a good resident and employer in Frederick for many years, and it was a sad day when it finally left less than 10 years ago.


The company left behind a very interesting old building that has been sitting vacant for some time. Obviously, when this happens, the question becomes what do we do with this it now?


A developer has presented plans to the city to renovate the building, bring it up to code and get some use out of it. The City responded, through its Historic Preservation Committee and Planning Commission, with an effort to place a historic preservation zoning classification on the property, which would frustrate – if not prevent – the redevelopment plans. The parties seem to be at loggerheads.


Mayor McClement has not announced his position but has stated that he believes there needs to be a “compromise,” recognizing the need to balance the interests of preserving historic buildings and allowing redevelopment of old properties to fit the current market. I hope he is successful in seeing such a compromise prevail, but if the Board of Aldermen go through with the rezoning of the property it might be too late for compromise.


One of the problems seems to be a garage at the rear of the main building. According to the prospective developer, it is not salvageable and must be torn down in order to make any real use of the property. In return, the developer has agreed to maintain the front facade of the old Coke plant and incorporate it into the redevelopment project. That seems like a reasonable compromise to me. However, it’s not up to me; it is up to the mayor and Board of Aldermen.


Keeping old buildings is great when you can do it and renovate them and provide not only historic preservation but a use to the citizens and taxpayers. Some of the best examples of that in the City of Frederick are the Weinberg Center and the old Armory on Bentz Street at Second. But both of those have required significant public money. The proposal before the city is purely private investment; and, in this day and age, it is hard to turn that down.


I note on the same day the story about the Coca-Cola plant ran in The Frederick News-Post, there was a column on another page which championed the city’s efforts to preserve the building, and even suggested some uses to which the building could be put.


I agree that a museum or even a winery could be a great use for the Coke building. But where is that money coming from? People who promote historic preservation without even mentioning the economic challenges involved are really not offering much good to the process. All factors must be considered, including the obvious: economics.


I hope the city figures this out in a way that will preserve some of the history of this property while at the same time allow it to do more than just sit empty and crumble away.


We shall soon see.


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