This past July, Salisbury-based developer Gillis Gilkerson signed a binding Letter Of Interest (LOI) with the Mayor and City Council of Frostburg to begin a due diligence period in order to develop a new, mixed-use apartment building on the corner of Center Street and Park Avenue, across from Frostburg State University’s Center Street lot. The property in question sits between American Avenue and Oak Street, and comprises an entire city block. Elizabeth Stahlman, Frostburg City Administrator, states that the project represents the realization of a “university mixed use corridor”, which itself culminated in the rezoning of the area around Frostburg State University to mixed-use commercial/residential in 2014.
We see mixed used development and communities all over the state, all over the country, including places like College Park or even in Hagerstown or Salisbury.
The City Administrator states that the impetus for redeveloping this parcel was driven by the need for new and diverse housing stock. She states that "since I've been with the City of Frostburg, the feedback that you hear over and over again from employers is that there's not enough housing. When they're trying to attract , especially young employees, to the area, there hasn't been housing that's been attractive to them." She went on to explain "we see mixed used development and communities all over the state, all over the country, including places like College Park or even in Hagerstown or Salisbury. So, with the zoning ordinance and the comp plan promoting this type of development and this being a documented need from a lot of our employers, we just identified that site as like a good place for this all to come together."
Using roughly $750,000 of strategic demolition funds made available from the State of Maryland, and $450,000 of area development funds contributed by Allegany County, the City of Frostburg began the process of acquiring eight properties from five different owners over a two year period, stretching from 2018 to 2020, after which demolition of the existing structures occurred.
Of course, the project had many challenges, the most pressing of which was the Covid-19 Pandemic. “We finished acquisition in 2020 and then as it was impacted by Covid”, says Stahlman. The City Administrator explained that “because we were still in the middle of the pandemic and there was a lot of uncertainty around development, we sat on it for a little while and didn't start to try and market it in earnest until the end of 2021”.
The RFP process began in the late fall of 2021. After gaining interest but no formal response from several developers, the City of Frostburg, along with representatives from Frostburg State University, Allegany County Economic and Community Development and the Maryland Department of Commerce began engaging with interested developers, including Gillis Gilkerson.
As soon as I was introduced to that firm, I just felt really excited because they were coming from Salisbury. I thought they had a more unique understanding of undertaking this type of project, outside of a metropolitan area.
“The other companies kind of weeded themselves out, so to speak, for various reasons” Stahlman explains, “but Gillis Gilkerson, worked with us throughout and we continue to have a dialogue and ultimately worked to get that binding LOI.” Stahlman continues “As soon as I was introduced to that firm, I just felt really excited because they were coming from Salisbury. I thought they had a more unique understanding of undertaking this type of project, outside of a metropolitan area.”
The Salisbury based company is both a contractor and a developer, with several high profile projects completed on the Eastern Shore. With expertise in commercial, industrial and residential development, they also have their own real estate arm, NAI Coastal.
"Salisbury is bigger than Frostburg but it's similar. It's a smaller town, it has a state university and is in close proximity to major tourist attractions" says Stahlman. "I think that they have a better understanding of realistic rents that they could achieve. Their desire to work with the community and the university to find appropriate tenants for the first floor of commercial space will also create a mutually beneficial outcome in that area" the City Administrator added.
Ultimately, City Administrator Stahlman envisions this project as having larger ripple effects on the city, as she puts it, "here's an opportunity for prospective students coming into town and seeing modern development right adjacent to the university. Hopefully, it helps bring students off campus and gets them coming further downtown. A grand vision would be that this project is very successful and it spurs more private investment and development like this in that university-adjacent neighborhood, connecting all the way to Main Street".