Dear Senator: Please do not vote $s for the boondoggle

Dear Senator: Please do not vote money for the downtown Frederick hotel and conference center. We need hotel accommodation downtown but this project prevents it. For eight years now the City has insisted on imposing a single behemoth, monopoly hotel on the historic downtown, scaring away innovative investors who would use their own funds and build on clean vacant sites, or repurpose and restore old vacant buildings. The prospect of the City-selected hotel developer getting tens of millions of dollars of upfront state and local government support, being gifted land, a conference center and car parking, this scares off the smaller investors with projects more to the scale of historic Frederick.

The City’s own financial adviser, Municap, valued this project on completion at around $30 million based on prospective revenues and expenses for a hotel of this kind. Yet the cost of this project never stated at less than $45m is now $84m. The waste involved in the project (cost minus value) is around $54m.

Be aware also that this ill-conceived project is sited on a lot containing two historically important buildings, both now declared by Maryland Historical Trust to be eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Yet all the plans so far produced by the developer to the City’s specifications require demolition of one and a half of the two historic buildings. Demolition is not going to happen without protracted negotiations and/or major downsizing of the project. There will be more conflict, expense, and delay. State funding gives the state Historical Trust the legal responsibility to approve the plans for this hotel complex. Demolition of buildings on the National Register is rare. Plus eight years into this project the City’s own Historic Preservation Commission has still not reviewed the project for conformity with the City’s Historic Preservation guidelines and Land Management Code.

Residents downtown are concerned about impacts on traffic and parking of this Walmart big box sized project.  Over two years ago a traffic impact study was claimed to have been completed by the developer, and the call was made for major changes to East Patrick Street at public expense. That traffic impact study was never made public.  (Even the City’s traffic engineer says he has never seen it.) Until 2016 the hotel complex was said by the City to justify a sixth parking deck and some 300 parking spaces for the hotel complex. The plans so far produced show on-site parking of around 100 vehicles, while the parking deck has been dropped because it took total hotel project costs to over $100m.  The shortfall in car parking provisions sets the project up for major conflict within the City, when plans are presented to the City’s Planning Commission.

The mismanagement of this project by City government is staggering. Three state agencies, asked for financial support for the hotel project by the City of Frederick have reviewed the project in the past year. All three — Maryland Stadium Authority, Maryland Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO) and the Department of Housing and Community Development — have found the project flawed and turned down the City.

You as stewards of public money should do the same. There are many projects worthy of state support. This boondoggle project is not one of them. Please excise the Frederick Downtown Hotel from SB171, the Capital Budget.

Peter Samuel

PS I have written extensively about this project at the website: frederickhotelboondoggle.us . I am beholden to no special interest and have received no compensation beyond a few fees from spin-off public writings.

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