The new plans for the downtown hotel make some important concessions to critics. The height of the building is reduced significantly. The room number comes down from 207 to 180. The conference center drops from 24,000sf gross to 20,000sf. Onsite car parking is increased to about 170 underground, reducing the parking spillover issue. Entries will be off West Patrick Street as well as South Carroll Street, reducing street congestion issues. The cladding will now be all-brick to please the historic preservationists. And the building edge on the Carroll Creek Park is stepped back at its upper floors to make it less cliff-like from the park promenades.
Plus the City and Plamondon now pledge that no public monies
will go towards the conference center portion of the complex, a most contentious issue since it would be operated as part of the hotel’s business. To be precise the announcement is that “No public dollars will be used in the construction, operation, or maintenance of the hotel or the conference center meeting space.” The Mayor in speaking to the plans said this twice. And the announcement quotes him:
“… no public $s for conference center”
“I am thrilled with where we are today with this project that I believe will help be a catalyst for the growth of the east side of our City. I am even more proud to be able to stand here and tell you that no public dollars will go into the construction or operation of the hotel or conference center.”
Traffic and parking impact issues are reduced by the proposed additional entry off West Patrick Street and by the somewhat larger underground parking garage.
The building complex’s overall height is reduced by an average 20% to reduce interference with the city’s storied ‘clustered spires’ skyline. It does this by spawning a new hotel east wing located midblock between W Patrick and the park.
Overall the complex looks to be more functional.
For critics that’s about the end of the good news.
Another rah-rah, “Frederick is the Greatest” event
Today’s event featured all the local elected officials who have supported the project, the Plamondon brothers, and Petter Fillat, and fifty or sixty other supporters, apparently recruited to the meeting at the Delaplaine Center by the City Department of Economic Development, the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Partnership and the Tourism Council. Most of the crowd were obviously invited some time before the public announcement of the event, barely 24 hours before today’s 10:30 start — a measure obviously designed to ensure a supportive and celebratory audience that would reassure nervous elected officials of a solid core of support for the project.
There was a lot of ra-ra talk of Frederick the Greatest and many congratulatory call-outs of the more prominent supporters, followed by rounds of applause. Everyone heard again that this hotel is going to be a ‘catalyst’ for $100 million of new development, a number that seems to be pure boosterism.
Speakers were Mayor McClement, County Executive Jan Gardner, developer Pete Plamondon and architect Peter Fillet. No questions were taken even though a sign on the way in labelled the event as a Press Conference.
The bad news of course is what was not said:
— that public money will buy the land for the project and by financing the underground parking garage provides
— the Birely Tannery’s demolition and removal is still part of the plan
— though reduced about 15 percent in volume it is still a very large building raising issues of compatibility in the historic district
The Mayor, Pete Plamondon and Peter Fillet all acknowledged the project plan faces challenges being accepted by the Maryland Historical Trust and the Historic Preservation Commission, and that this plan will likely be modified further.
In short my take is that the project is significantly improved, but big problems remain.
The sponsors have made a serious attempt to mollify critics by moving a little in our direction. For myself I remain of the opinion we’d be better off following the Annapolis lodging model which eschews any City sponsorship and enables the organic entrepreneurial development of a bunch of smaller differentiated hotels downtown of 20, 40 or 80 rooms each. As for the City-Plamondon project, I’d like to see scaled down further, so the Birely Tannery building with its magnificent smokestack can be preserved and restored as a Early Frederick Industry Museum. Such an interesting visitor destination would enhance a smaller scaled Plamondon hotel.
Even though improved it remains an egregious boondoggle
The project if improved remains an egregious boondoggle in that a chosen hotel developer, selected by a dubious procurement is being showered with public favors by way of land provided as a giveaway and huge parking and utility expenditures and soft cost design work dedicated to the project being borne by taxpayers to the tune of $31 million. Plus the City sponsorship puts pressure on historic preservation and planning officials to wave the project through though it involves demolition of a historic building no one else would get away with in a designated ‘historic district.’
Such crony corporate welfare and special treatment for a favored businessman is harmful to others, and to the public. And it is sheer fantasy to talk of the project being a ‘catalyst’ for another $100 million of new development downtown. Development is driven by prospective profit and loss accounts. It is not a high school chemistry experiment. If built — and it is still uncertain — the project will have both negative and positive spinoff effects. How those net out remains an important issue of public debate.
P Sam 2017.05.18 (several revisions including 05.19)