Mayor Michael O’Connor says there will be “no action” to acquire
extra land for the downtown hotel without a vote of the Board of Aldermen. And the City will abide by its purchasing rules and the state open meetings law in handling the matter of extra land. Mayor O’Connor was responding to a letter co-signed by Jane Weir editor of the FoF C Downtown Marriott Watch, myself and another citizen in which we questioned allowing the Plamondon company to negotiate the purchase of land which is to be paid for and owned by the City.
Members of the Eagles Club, next door to the planned downtown hotel, were told by senior Club officers recently that Plamondon had made an offer of $650,000 for their land including their clubhouse. The state’s valuation is about $1.2 million. Under the Memorandum of Understanding that Plamondon has with the City to develop the hotel, the City will pay for and own all the land, build the underground parking garage and a street-level ‘podium’ or structural and landscaped platform on which Plamondon can build their hotel and conference center. The Eagles property is apparently needed in order to provide a ramp driveway from East Patrick St to and from the planned City parking garage.
The Mayor’s letter fails to address the question of what authority Plamondon has to undertake the procurement of City land for the hotel project. Has the City surreptitiously given Plamondon the go-ahead to act as its agent? Or is there simply an assumption that the City will rubber-stamp any deal Plamondon makes with the Eagles and accept the terms and price they have negotiated?
Since the City is to own and pay for the land, and it is to be used for the City Parking garage under the hotel, why is the City not itself directly negotiating the purchase with the Eagles? The City has a Purchasing Department and rules for procurement designed to avoid any corrupt side-deals between individuals that can occur in closed-door situations dealing with public money. Despite the Mayor’s assurances in his letter that whole process appears to be bypassed by having Plamondon negotiate the Eagles land purchase on behalf of the City.
This use of a proxy is not consistent with the Mayor’s declared approach of taking direct charge of the hotel project — now nine years old, and still without final plans or City permits.
We have filed a Public Information Act request for copies of correspondence between Plamondon and City officials on the purchase of the Eagles land to establish in more detail what is happening.
Mayor’s letter September 10:
Thank you for your letter of concern. No action to acquire real property can be completed without a vote of the Board of Alderman. We will abide by all City purchasing requirements and the Maryland Open Meetings Act throughout this process.
Michael C. O’Connor, Mayor
The City of Frederick
101 N. Court St.
Frederick, MD 21701
The letter we wrote August 21 that the Mayor was responding to:
Mr Mayor: at a recent meeting of the Frederick Eagles club it was revealed that Plamondon Hospitality Partners (Plamondon) has made a $650,000 offer for the Eagles property adjacent to the City-sponsored downtown hotel. Apparently the Eagles land is proposed to be added to the Randalls’ land which is all to be paid for and owned by the City. Plamondon is in effect making offers-to-buy on behalf of the City of Frederick!
This raises several concerns. First the Board of Aldermen and the public have not been consulted about acquiring extra property for the downtown hotel project. The recently revised MOU between the City and Plamondon provided an opportunity for this to be addressed, but the MOU makes no mention of the need for the Eagles’ land. And it grants Plamondon no authority to negotiate and make offers for extra City land for the hotel. The City has its own Purchasing Department with documented procedures for handling purchases with accountability. These procedures are designed to avoid side-deals or hidden inducements of a corrupt kind.
The downtown hotel project has an unfortunate record of outsourcing City functions to self-interested outsiders. Mark Gaver, the first City appointed chairman of the Hotel Advisory Committee (HAC) turned out to be one of the greatest conmen in the history of Frederick, and faces the rest of his life in prison after conviction on federal charges of fraud to the tune of $50 million. The HAC represented outsourcing the procurement of a site and developer to outside special interests — the very people wanting taxpayer subsidies for what is normally a commercial business. Around the turn of 2013/2014 the HAC unilaterally dumped the pro-competition two-stage procurement (site-first, developer second) which was recommended by consultant JLL and presented to the Mayor & Board in the summer of 2013. The HAC in closed meetings had the Plamondon proposal in hand weeks before the RFP was written. The single-stage procurement (developer-must-bring-land) adopted by the HAC virtually eliminated the possibility of any real competition. And making the HAC the selection committee made the result a foregone conclusion.
Mr Mayor these travesties occurred on Mayor McClement’s watch. You accepted the resignation of the City-appointed Hotel Advisory Committee chairman soon after assuming office and decided not to appoint a successor. You effectively closed down that shabby outfit — for which you deserve the respect and gratitude of disinterested citizens. You said you wanted more direct management of the project by responsible staff. Good too! However the outsourcing of the Eagles land acquisition to Plamondon is a throwback to the old secretive outsourcing mode of operation. It is quite incompatible with your stated approach.
Plamondon is apparently working with Eagles’ leaders to relocate the Eagles Club operation to a new suburban location so that the existing property can be turned over to the downtown hotel project’s parking. The Board of Aldermen and public have not been consulted about whether we want taxpayer money used to push the active Eagles Club out of the downtown in favor of a parking facility for Plamondon’s self-styled ‘upper upscale hotel.’ This smacks of City-sponsored, taxpayer-subsidized gentrification on the sly.
The Eagles were reportedly offered on a ‘best & final basis’ only $650,000 for property assessed by the official state assessor at over $1.2 million. Is this low-ball offer consistent with City land acquisition policy? This too should be a matter for Board of Aldermen discussion and public comment.
We urge you to make a clear statement that Plamondon, in any dealings with the Eagles, speaks only for himself and his backers, and can make no commitments on behalf of the City. Purchase offers on behalf of the City should only be made after full public discussion of the proposed Eagles’ land purchase and a decision by our elected and responsible Board of Aldermen. Please make clear also that any land to be owned by the City will be a purchase conducted by the City Purchasing Department, not by Plamondon.
We look forward to hearing your reaction to these suggestions.
Jane Weir, chair Friends of Frederick County’s Downtown Marriott Watch
Peter Samuel, editor frederickhotelboondoggle.us
Elizabeth Bauer, Middletown MD