Long-time vacant commercial buildings (and we can all name several), are major nuisances for their immediate neighborhoods and the City as a whole, creating unsightly health, safety, and welfare issues. Such vacancies are eyesores and can result in declining property values, crime, vandalism, loitering, and other undesirable effects. Recent articles in the media have focused on this issue as one that is particularly visible and distressing since there are a number of notable vacancies which current policies, codes, regulations, and incentives have not been effective in forcing renovation and leasing.
It is important to note that the vast majority of the commercial leasable space in the city is occupied by terrific businesses employing nearly 49,000. While commercial vacancies have crept up into the upper teens during the recession and slow recovery, these properties are not the ones causing public outcry for action. Most commercial landlords are focused on minimizing vacancies and routinely invest in their properties keeping them leasable, all in hopes of driving strong revenue. Landlords who don't are often referred to as "slumlords" and their properties eventually become deteriorated and unleasable. There is little understanding for why they choose to allow this to occur, but the reasons they give range from the high cost of renovation including life-safety and ADA improvements to simply feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to reposition derelict buildings. The latter is a good reason for them to consider selling their properties to others who do.
There is a strong correlation between public safety and economically vibrant, healthy neighborhoods with low vacancy rates and capital investment. The City has tried a number of ways to encourage and force delinquent property owners to maintain and lease their properties including recently condemning properties which are unsafe to occupy. What we need now is a well-coordinated, focused set of regulations and incentives to achieve progress.
In an effort to advance this issue, the city administration has announced that a blue-ribbon panel of local property owners, brokers, residents, and staff is being appointed to recommend regulatory and incentive strategies within 90 days. The group is being asked to review current policies, regulations and incentives, as well as to explore best practices from other communities. Many options have been identified by city staff, residents, elected officials and organizations like the Downtown Frederick Partnership which has been exploring the issue. Some of the alternatives include required registration for vacant properties, vacant property taxes or fees for long-time vacancies, land-value tax system, and increased incentives for building renovation and capital re-investment.
We all want Frederick to maintain and improve its reputation as a vibrant and safe community with healthy commercial occupancy rates, jobs, and available retail products and services. For more information check out www.businessinfrederick.com.