The City continues to support a Frederick County Chamber of Commerce lobbying effort in Annapolis on behalf of state funding for the Downtown Hotel and Conference Center (DH&CC) project. In the 2017 legislative session $10,750 of City money will go toward the Greenwill Consulting contract.
That will bring to about $86,000 total City expenditures on lobbying in Annapolis on behalf of the DH&CC. In the 2016 legislative session the City contributed $25,500 to the County Chamber of Commerce lobbying effort. The 2015 legislative session had seen the City spend $50,000 on hotel lobbying. So the trend is down.
But so are the prospects for getting further state assistance.
State funding of the project is now opposed by the Hogan administration by which we mean the Maryland Stadium Authority, the Maryland Economic Development Corporation MEDCO and the Department of Housing and Community Development, and not least Gov Hogan personally. Five of the eight members of the county delegation to Annapolis and three out of seven County Councillors oppose this long-in-the-tooth City project.
Also the Maryland Historical Trust has recently declared the Birely Tannery building and the larger site significant features of the downtown historic district and also of sufficient importance historically to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This likely puts the kibosh on the effort to jam a 207 room Marriott hotel and 24,000sf conference center onto the chosen lot in a City with a 5 story height limit and a tough historic preservation regime.
Here are our questions about the continued lobbying, and the City answers:
Q1. Is the City providing any financial support for lobbying/advocacy activities on behalf of the downtown hotel project this legislative session?
City: Yes. Frederick County Chamber of Commerce has a contract with Greenwill Consulting for this legislative session.
Q2. If so how much is being contributed?
City: $10,750 City Contribution from City Hotel Conference Center CIP.
Q3. Please provide details of the lobbying/advocacy authorized and contributions expected by other ‘partners.’
City: As mentioned in #1 above, the contract is held by the Chamber of Commerce and as such, the Chamber is the entity to request specific information regarding other partner contributions and scope of work. The services focus on continued advocacy and education for state support for public infrastructure which is part of the Downtown Frederick Hotel and Conference Center Project including land acquisition, structured on-site public parking, roads, utilities, and meeting space. END City answer
The City declined initially to provide information on the overall contract for this year’s hotel lobbying or the contributions of other ‘partners’ but we are making more inquiries and will report the bigger lobbying picture when the information becomes available.
Elizabeth Cromwell, president and CEO of the County Chamber of Commerce said the lobbying effort on behalf of the City sponsored hotel is based on a contract “between two private parties” and it is “not appropriate for either signatory to disclose the terms and conditions.” In addition Cromwell says there is a “confidentiality clause.”
Not a contract between private parties is the agreement on funding of the lobbying effort by the five parties, two of which (the City and the County) are not allowed by law to conceal such spending. Plus the Tourism Council and the Downtown Partnership recipients of county and city money are also subject to disclosure requirements. The Chamber of Commerce itself is under a legal obligation to report its lobbying expenditures to the State Ethics Commission and to the IRS.
The lobbying effort on behalf of the Frederick DH&CC first surfaced April 13, 2016 when Earl Robbins chair of the City’s hotel advisory committee called out Greenwill Consulting, “our lobbyist” among those who deserved thanks for the success in apparently getting state funding via a conditional grant of $1 million and provisional approval of two loans of $7.5 million.
The celebrations of April 13 last proved premature.
Subsequently Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) dumped the Frederick DH&CC project and as a result the City was unable to fulfill the state legislature’s condition in granting $1 million of MSA participation. And now the Hogan administration has zeroed out the
two tranches of $7.5m provisionally approved in the end run of the 2016 legislative session Last April.
Separately the City applied last summer to the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for $1 million toward land purchase for the hotel complex. Despite earlier grants this time the DHCD passed on the Frederick project. $0.00.
The author and other citizens led by Jane Weir lobbied actively
against the DH&CC last year receiving no remuneration. We posted, telephoned, emailed, testified and visited all on our own time. Typical of our unpaid counter advocacy is this ‘ten strikes’ letter urging no-$s for the Frederick hotel written to the secretary of the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD):