Dear Delegate letter — sent to members of the State House Appropriations Committee

Dear Delegate: please vote against state capital budget money for the downtown Frederick hotel complex. Last time such grants were made they were on condition that the City and the developer execute a contract or MOU with the Maryland Stadium Authority. The City was unable to draw on those state funds because the Stadium Authority found the Frederick project to be problematic. MEDCO was approached and it too turned Frederick down. For good reason. The project is ill-conceived and has been grossly mismanaged by the City.

After eight years of studies and millions spent on consultants there is still no firm design, just a selected site, and a lousy site for the huge hotel complex that the City specified. The site chosen is too small to provide for the 207 rooms, for the large conference center, and the additional restaurants, bars, indoor pool, spa etc needed for the upscale ’full service’ establishment specified by the City.  Car parking proposed is a fraction of that recommended by City consultants.

Located in the official Downtown Historic District the site contains two buildings of sufficient historic value they are officially listed as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, plus an archeological site determined to be of unique importance by the Maryland Historical Trust.  The developer’s plans call for one-and-a-half of the two historic buildings to be demolished and the archeological site to be buried under the five story building. If this even happens, and the odds are heavily against, it will only be after one helluva fight with historic preservationists and other city residents. By state law the project’s location on the historic site will need the approval of the Maryland Historical Trust to draw down state money.

The City has yet to put the hotel project before its own Historic Preservation Commission and its own Planning Commission or to hold the formal public hearings needed for it to proceed under City codes. No traffic impact study has been published although the developer says he expects East Patrick Street to be converted from one-way to two-way traffic and other expensive changes made to intersections at public expense.

The hotel project buys too little at far too much cost. Municap, the City-chosen financial consultant for the project determined that the conference center portion of the project adds nothing to its value, which based on similar hotels’ revenues and costs, it put at about $30 million on opening. Given that the estimated cost is $84 million, the project constitutes huge waste (cost minus value) to the tune of about $54 million.

For over ten years City officials have been actively discouraging any independent hotel development downtown for fear of undercutting their case for the City-sponsored project you are being asked to support. They conducted a sham ‘competitive procurement’ in 2014 in which the pre-chosen developer’s proposal was being worked on by City consultants Jones Lang LaSalle months before the official request-for-proposals was even issued. The City’s own procurement rules were flagrantly violated to select the favored developer. Bizarre decisions were made in the scoring of the chosen proposal and that of an unwanted competitor.

Downtown Frederick needs hotels and other lodging facilities, but they should fit the scale of the historic district. There are vacant buildings that could easily be repurposed for 20 to 50-room hotels and there are vacant sites without historic buildings that are just steps away from historic streets that would accommodate 100+ room hotels.

For this to happen the City will need to abandon its sponsorship of this behemoth conference center hotel as a monopoly underwritten by massive upfront subsidies, and ongoing tax advantages over possible competitors.

Here in downtown historic Frederick we deserve the right to cater to visitors the way historic Annapolis itself does — with a variety of owner and investor-financed hotels that fit the scale of the streets and fit the diversity of tastes and budgets of visitors, and which compete for patronage on an equal basis. City government has no business imposing this huge, boring monopoly hotel on residents or on visitors to Frederick. State government should not be complicit in this misguided project.

Here in Frederick the opposition to this project is bipartisan, and comes from progressives and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans alike. Opposition should be bipartisan in the state legislature too.

The Senate made a mistake voting to revive funding. The House of Delegates should make its own determination. Please say ’No’ to millions for the boondoggle hotel in Frederick.

Peter Samuel

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