$5 million for hotel sneaked into a ‘prior authorizations’ bill HB1347 (corrected)

Hotel boondoggle supporters in the General Assembly have managed to sneak $5 million into HB1347, a small bill which is separate from the main budget bill. NOTE: This is a correction. Yesterday we reported a provision early in the bill for a $1 million grant, overlooking a grant for $4 million later in the bill.

Here is the relevant text:

HB1347 Bill Title: Prior Authorizations of State Debt — Alterations

Under Miscellaneous Grant Programs it reads 

Downtown Frederick [Hotel and Conference Center] PUBLIC PARKING AND INFRASTRUCTURE. Provide a grant of $1,000,000 to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen of the City of Frederick for the acquisition, planning, design, construction, repair, renovation, and reconstruction, INCLUDING PUBLIC UTILITY, ROAD, STREETSCAPE, AND PARK IMPROVEMENTS of the [Downtown Frederick Hotel and Conference Center] DOWNTOWN FREDERICK PUBLIC PARKING GARAGE NEAR THE SOUTHEAST CORNER OF EAST PATRICK STREET AND SOUTH CARROLL STREET, located in Frederick County. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, this grant is not subject to review by the Maryland Historical Trust. NOTWITHSTANDING SECTION 1(5) OF THIS ACT, THE GRANTEE HAS UNTIL JUNE 1, 2021, TO PRESENT EVIDENCE THAT A MATCHING FUND WILL BE PROVIDED. NOTWITHSTANDING SECTION 1 (7) OF THIS ACT, THIS GRANT MAY NOT TERMINATE BEFORE JUNE 1, 2026 (Frederick County)………$1,000,000

You can read it about midway through this 

https://legiscan.com/MD/text/HB1347/2019

The second grant of $4 million is phrased identically except for the larger amount of money proposed.

My comment: First it supports an unnecessary, wasteful, corrupt crony project that after nine years of putzing around still doesn’t even have a site plan that comes near to meeting City code, let alone traffic studies, an independent up-to-date feasibility analysis, detailed design or engineering. 

Second, the bill misrepresents the purpose of the project by calling it “Public Parking and Infrastructure.” The parking works out at $69,000 per parking space which is about four times the normal cost of structured parking. Such gold-plated parking would never be built as a normal City parking garage. What is being financed by taxpayers is the foundations of the crony-developer’s hotel. By taking a difficult floodplain site with a century of industrial dumping the City is taking on the cost and risks of hazmat handling, archeological digs and deep foundation piles and underground construction, presenting the crony-developer with an engineered platform for his hotel.

Third, the site has been described by the City Historic Preservation Commission as being of “unusual historic importance” and it makes a mockery of our downtown historic district to have a special provision exempting the boondoggle from normal review by MHT, the state historic preservation review body. 

Fourth, these grants sneakily bypassed the normal budget appropriations process. Plus they even bypassed discussion at the regular Frederick County delegation meetings on Friday mornings when the General Assembly is in session. Apparently, the boondoggle supporters in the state delegation went the backroom route because they were fearful that if they stuck to normal channels and were open to public comment a bunch of people would show up and talk about the waste and corruption behind the project. 

Fifth, contrary to normal use-it-or-lose-it provisions in state grants according to HB1347 the money for the boondoggle is to be available until mid-2026. Seven years!!!! That shows how much confidence the project’s own supporters have in the ability of City Government to push this project ahead in a timely fashion.  

If the City needs until June 2026 to get to a financial close when it can draw on the state’s million bucks the Hotel would not open until 2028 or 2029. And it was back in 2009 that the first City money was spent on this project. With this record of epic mismanagement by the City we must realistically expect sub-standard work, cost over-runs, corrupt contracting, and mis-spending. (Edits Thursday 18:40)

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