Ten points about the boondoggle

1. Project launched by a big time crook Mark Gaver now serving 17 years jail after being convicted in US Court on $50 million of money laundering and bank fraud. Gaver was the first chairman of the Downtown Hotel Advisory Committee (DHAC) appointed to that position by Mayor Randy McClement and described as the City’s ‘point man’ for its hotel. Part of the Ole Boy Frederick mafia, Conman Gaver set the DHAC on the path of meeting behind closed doors to conceal its machinations from scrutiny. This was clearly a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act.

2. With its chairman appointed by the Mayor, meeting at the call of City staff, and housed on City premises, charged with spearheading a City project, and given the services of City-funded consultants, the DHAC as a City body was required by State law to give notice of its meetings, to meet in open session and publish its agenda and minutes of meetings. But it couldn’t meet in public because it was engaged in extracting tens of millions of taxpayer dollars for one of its own. It received the detailed Plamondon hotel proposal and agreed to the City shouldering much of the cost, then realized the only way to get State dollars was to contrive the appearance of a competitive procurement. Emails contain indiscreet words to this effect attributed to the City’s lobbyist in Annapolis.

3. Consultants JLL proposed a competitive procurement method by which a site would be selected first, then in a second stage there would be open competition among hotel developers to develop the City-selected site. This two-stage competitive procedure was presented publicly to a meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. However months later behind closed doors the DHAC dumped that format for a single stage procurement under which only developers with control (ownership or contract to buy) over one of four sites* chosen by the DHAC could bid for the lucrative City sponsorship. In one communication the new draft procurement method is referred to as a Plamondon draft. The winner wrote the terms of the supposedly competed procurement.

* Only two of the four eligible sites were free for a hotel, a third being already committed to office use, the fourth being the US Postal Service’s still active main Post Office..

4. Invoice timesheets show that City consultants hired to conduct the procurement put in 100 hours with the Plamondon company before and during the supposed competitive procurement. This was in flagrant violation of City Purchasing Offices rules which confine lawful communications to written questions and answers to be made available to all bidders.

5. Scoring of the two bidders by the shady DHAC was heavily biased to favor the pre-selected winner. In short, the City DHAC committed a fraudulent ‘competed procurement’ and Plamondon was improperly selected to be the recipient of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

6. The project requires removal of the Birely Tannery, Maryland’s last remaining historic leather tannery deemed to be of “unusual historic importance.” Other sites nearby lack historic buildings. The State’s regulator Maryland Historical Trust wrote a scathing review of the quality of archeological survey work done for the City and the developer. It has not signed off on the project, and is apparently being bypassed.

7. Eight years after the project was launched City officials recognize that the heavily landlocked site has insufficient street frontage for vehicular access and seek to buy neighboring properties. Even though City taxpayers will pay for and own the land, the developer is conducting negotiations to buy it. A site plan submitted for the existing site was the subject of a scathing list of questions from City permitting staff.

8. The project has been managed with extraordinary ineptitude. Deadline after deadline has been missed. Studies done at considerable expense are now obsolete. Two state agencies, Maryland Stadium Authority and the Maryland Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO) each examined the City hotel project and found no justification for supporting it. The Department of Housing and Community Development made two grants to the City of Frederick to support the hotel project but neither could be drawn on because the City failed to meet contract commitments on time. The Department declined further extensions, so the City forfeited State grant money.

9. The project no longer involves a subsidy, City advocates say, because they have split the project into two parts — a City parking garage below street level providing on top a podium or platform on which the developer will build the hotel and conference center. The City as well as buying land, doing all the necessary roadworks and landscaping will now assume all costs and risks of excavation and foundation work in the old creek bed, the site of two centuries of crude industrial processing. The City will pay all the cost of the parking garage. If it were not for the hotel project the City would never build a one story basement parking garage in this difficult creekside location. Costs per parking space will be much higher than at the City’s other garages. A subsidy to the hotel by another name — a parking garage for the hotel — is still a hotel subsidy.

10. Original rationale for the subsidy was that private enterprise would never invest in a hotel without City, County and State subsidies. Now within two blocks of the City/Plamondon site at the empty Visitation Academy building  investors are building a hotel and condos without any City or other government support.  The purported rationale for taxpayer support has disappeared.

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