Salisbury Rising: Fisher’s designs will impact city

Architect Keith Fisher in his Salisbury office.

When local architect Keith Fisher talks about his upbringing and how he developed a strong work ethic, credit goes to his grandfather and mother.

His grandfather owned a pizzeria in the Philadelphia area, where he was born, and it was there he learned the value of a dollar with such precision that, with help from his mother, when he went to college he had no student loans.

“I worked for my grandfather at his shop, Mamma’s Pizzeria, out of Philadelphia, since 1948. It was a way of life for us. My spring break was making sure everybody had food. I remember my grandfather telling me, ‘When you sweat, make sure it lines your own pocket,’” Fisher said.

Interestingly, he found similarities between shaping dough and drawing buildings.

“You can’t go outside the box when you make a pizza,” he said. Likewise, an architect must stay within site constraints and be sure designs are proportionate.

Those lessons served him well in his business, Fisher Architecture, where his wife, Caitlyn, is chief financial officer, working there on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and staying with their 3-year-old and 6-year-old sons, John and James, other days.

Fisher, a graduate of Philadelphia University, worked for a few companies in Philadelphia until lay-offs began and he decided he was tired of big companies. Around that time, his mother married a doctor who wanted to move to St. Michael’s. Fisher visited the Shore on weekends.

“I saw the landscape and I wanted to live here full time,” he said.

“I worked for a local firm here from 2001 to 2009. I realized it could be different. I was 35. I could go on my own or find a way to continue with other employers. In October 2009 there was not a lot of construction but I thought, ‘Go ahead and do it.’ One way or another we were going to make this work. It was a leap of faith. I felt we couldn’t go wrong. I’m a very faith-based person and I believed ultimately it would work out,” he said.

He opened his business in November 2009, spent time in the community, met residents and soon had 15 or 20 projects, even though they were small, maybe screened-in porches and bathroom renovations.

“My philosophy was, ‘If your dog needs a house, I’ll draw it,’” he said.

Today, he employs 14 people including an interior designer. He’s the only architect in the firm licensed by state Board of Architects in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware and Florida.

“There are three new apartment projects in Florida. A local group came to Salisbury and I got involved. A lot of our projects are referred to us by our contractors. That’s a statement in itself,” Fisher said.

Last year, he had 135 projects and about 70 by mid-year 2017, including Marina Landing, a multi-million-dollar residential and commercial complex on 5 acres on the Wicomico River, near the marina, regarded by many as among the most significant in Salisbury and crucial to the city’s future.

Planned are an upscale restaurant owned by Imad Abu-Ahmadeh, who also owns Cactus Taverna, an ice cream shop, bakery, offices, apartments and boat house.

“The new amphitheater Downtown will be in concert with it, so there will be other things for people to do,” Fisher said.

In April, Mayor Jake Day announced that Brian Meyer and Kevin Haigis of Capital SUP would bring water sports to the marina — including paddle boarding, kayaks and canoes for rent – even before the boathouse is complete.

Last week, the Wicomico County Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously approved the preliminary plan for Marina Landing, as long as concerns are addressed including adequate parking and safety along the Riverwalk.

Fisher didn’t attend, but Brock Parker of Parker & Associates, with Abu-Ahmadeh, told P&Z members they welcome input.

“We would be remiss if we went blindly at the work that needs to be done without getting P&Z’s comments,” Parker said.

The first phase will be a small contingent of commercial, office space, possibly retail and the 6,000-square-foot to 8,000-square-foot restaurant Parker called “pretty much the driver of the project.”

“It’s a great project. I think you have some challenges,” said Chip Dashiell, chairman of the P&Z.

“This is something we all want to do right,” Parker said.

“This is a very ambitious and beautiful project. There will be people who will want to be a part of it because it is one of the few places left in our Downtown like it. Parking is a concern, I think, in terms of how we are going to do that. I’m hoping to hear, ‘Here’s what’s we’re going to propose,’” he said.

An image of Keith Fisher’s much-anticipated Marina Landing Project.

Dashiell also worried about there being no railing around the new Riverwalk.

“When there are folks coming and going there, folks, children, kids, safety issues, with kids falling over. It seems to me if we’re going to have an extended Riverwalk area where you’re going to have lots of people at all hours of the day and night and you have children or even adults and if there’s any drinking or anything like that and somebody slips, falls overboard, I have a  concern about that,” Dashiell said.

P&Z member Jim Thomas asked about the height of the Riverwalk and Parker said the Federal Emergency Management Agency “changed the benchmarks.”

“They didn’t change the flood plain elevations, but the benchmarks. Depending on where you are in the city, they lowered the earth, so now the building has to come up two or three feet to have a rise from the bulkhead. To make that three or three and one-half-foot transition is a real challenge for the developer. Maybe move the retaining wall to the bulkhead and put the railing there. This is the preliminary juncture and these things will be evaluated,” Parker said.

Jack Lenox, director of Planning for Wicomico County and City, said Day is open to the administration sponsoring changes to parking standards and called Marina Landing “everything we are trying to get done in that Downtown area.”

“We welcome this. We want to get this out there. We want to find out input from the community and see if they want this as well,” Lenox said.

Fisher said he hopes the building permit will be ready by the end of the year.

“We’re designing these places for success. It’s connectivity. You have to understand what society needs. Anybody can draw a picture or say, ‘Hey, that would be a great spot for an ice cream store.’ But how can it all fit together with the community?” Fisher said.

“What I really like is interaction with others, not knowing what each day has in store, then to sit back and watch people use what you designed. Essentially, people pay me to color. There can be some pretty expensive coloring books,” he said, laughing.

“It shouldn’t be about the architect, but about people enjoying it. The success of an architect is how successfully the design is being used. A design isn’t done when it leaves the drawing board, but when people use it.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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