Many are calling it a ‘boondoggle.’
Citizens opposed to the proposed downtown Frederick hotel and conference center are making their viewpoints known. They say they object to taxpayer money being used to help finance the project.
Peter Samuel of Frederick says he’s worried about financing coming from state, county and local coffers. He notes that the Chamber of Commerce’s Major Employers Group has been pushing for this project for years to help bring in more conventions to the city. “But they should be the ones taking the initiative to fund this, not the taxpayers of Frederick city. That’s my main concern, I’d say.”
During the 2016 Maryland General Assembly, lawmakers approved $1-million for the project, and $7.5-million for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. There are also plans to get the Maryland Stadium Authority to sell bonds to help partially finance for the conference center.
Others also say the project is based on false projections, noting that studies used to justify the facility are faulty, and it would generate traffic nightmares. Samuel says the proposed location, the former Frederick News-Post building on East Patrick Street, is “awkward to get to from Interstate 70.”
Opponents also say there are plans to raise the hotel and motel tax to pay for the facility, and the design and scale are too large.
Plamondon Hospitality Partners was given the award by the city to develop and operate the hotel and conference center. The hotel part will be funded by the company, but state, county and city funding will help construct the conference center.
Supporters of the project say it will bring in convention business to the city. “I think the hotel will do okay, probably, the hotel part of it. I think there’s a demand for it, and if they can build the hotel part reasonably and economically that will work okay. The real problem is the conference center part. You just don’t make money on conference centers,” he says.
Citizens who favor the project say if it fails, Plamondon Hospitality Partners will take the loss, not the the taxpayers. But Samuel says probably not. “There is quite a high probably, I would say, given the track record of other conference centers and convention centers, that they would say after two or three years,’look we’re bleeding money heavily on this. We just can’t keep it up. We need an annual subsidy from the city to keep it open,'” he says.
Jane Weir of Middletown says projects like these funded through the Maryland Stadium Authority bonds have not been very successful. “The other conference facilities have all cost Maryland tens of millions of dollars, and they’ve been complete disasters,” she says.
Weir also says the site where the hotel and conference center is located was the location of four or five tanneries in the 19th century which used chromium and arsenic. She says the soil could be contaminated. “And it seems foolish to me to choose a site without being certain it can be used, and is not going to create an environmental nightmare,” she says.
She also says the conference center may not be needed. “In fact, there’s such a glut and such a competition among major cities and major event spaces for conferences and conventions that we can’t really expect this part that’s being publicly financed to do us any favors at all. We can expect to require a public subsidy,” she says.
Opponents have scheduled a public meeting on this hotel and conference center on Monday, May 23rd between 6:30 PM and 7:45 PM at the C. Burr Artz Library Community Room.