Aldermen Approve MOU For Downtown Hotel & Conference Center

It’s one of many steps in the construction of this facility.

Frederick, Md (KM)  A memorandum of understanding for the proposed downtown Frederick hotel and conference center was approved Thursday night by the Board of Aldermen. Board members Michael O’Connor, Kelly Russell, Jose Bokee and Phil Dacey voted in favor. Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak was not present.

The agreement covers the roles of the city, the county, the Maryland Stadium Authority, the Maryland Economic Development Corporation and Plamondon Hospitality Partners in the funding and construction of this center, which is planned for the former News-Post building on East Patrick Street.

Director of Economic Development, Richard Griffin, said the project is estimated to cost $84-million, with Plamondon Hospitality Partners paying about $53-million of that amount. He said the city will only provide $250,000 of taxpayer money in the form of a capital grant for the “acquisition, planning and design” of the downtown hotel and conference center. “In all of the city contributions are limited to revenues streams that are developed from the project itself. None of these revenue streams come from the general taxpayer. They all come from the project and they’re generated by the project,” he said.

Other funding includes $15,000,000 from the state which was authorized by a Senate Bill 191. Amounts of $7.5-million will be provided for the project during fiscal years 2018 and 2019. There’s also a $1-million state grant. Griffin said these governmental funds are being used for public improvements.

The hotel will be operated by Plamondon Hospitality Partners, which will also run the conference center that’s owned by the Maryland Economic Development Corporation.

Griffin says the project is expected to generate $25-million a year in economic impact, and provide 280 jobs.

During Thursday night’s meeting, supporters and opponents testified about the project. Elizabeth Cromwell, the President of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, said not having a downtown hotel and conference center has put the area at a disadvantage. “The biggest call we get is  where to offer conferences and we are unable to provide the resources in Frederick County and we send away a significant amount of business,” she said. The Chamber and it’s Major Employers Group has pushed for this hotel and conference center for a long time.

But opponents also spoke. Carrie Larson said the expectations put upon this facility cannot be verified. “We’re not living in a movie. This is not ‘The Field of Dreams:’ ‘Build it and they will come.’ You all think you’re going to build this hotel and people will come and flock to it. You’re going to make all this money. But, again, there’s no evidence. There’s no science out there,” she said.

But Alderman Phil Dacey said the risk to the city from this project is minimal. “The city is acting as a facilitator with very low risk to the city taxpayer in providing this key asset to the city I think there’s universal demand for,” he said.

Jane Weir said the city was moving  through this memorandum of understanding too quickly. “I think it’s wrong that you’re rushing it through,” she said. “This is what happened last year when there were only 18 days between the time the MOU went to a workshop and the vote was cast all in favor. I heard some people say they were in favor even though they didn’t understand what it was all about. This is not an acceptable level of understanding.”

Alderman Michael O’Connor praised the opponents for coming out to testify. But he said there’s a long way to go before construction begins. “From entitlements in the city to the specific funding agreements and all of those kinds of thing. Ample opportunity for more public participation in the process; hopefully a chance for concerns to be ameliorated,” he said.

The County Council is scheduled to vote on this memorandum of understanding next Tuesday, October 25th.

By Kevin McManus