Mayor says last shot at state hotel $s, public hearings bypassed again in backroom deals

Mayor Michael O’Connor is tiring of the City’s repeated panhandling in Annapolis on behalf of the downtown hotel boondoggle. A Frederick News-Post (FNP) report this morning (link at the bottom) quotes the Mayor as saying: “This is the last session we’re going to go through this process. We will find out what we are going to get in the budget this year. We don’t intend to go after it after this year.”

If state money is not obtained this year, then the hotel “will move forward without the extra funds,” the FNP reports. State money is not essential for the project to “move forward,” the Mayor is in effect saying.

That is a strong argument against state funding! 

Why should the State fund a project which the City says can move forward whether or not it gets State funds?

The News-Post report also details how Delegate Carol Krimm bypassed any discussion at the Delegation or through the normal appropriations committee budgetary process, thereby avoiding any public hearings. 

Senator Michael Hough (R – Frederick & Carroll) said: “It’s the same backroom deals to get this through… Millions of dollars are being appropriated for the downtown hotel without any public hearing in Annapolis.”

Hotel proponents know the project is so rotten it cannot withstand public scrutiny! 

Put it up for a public hearing and be guaranteed a bunch of citizens will show up or write pointing out to legislators the City’s corrupt and fake competed procurement, the City’s flouting of the Open Meetings Act by the behind-closed-doors meetings of the Downtown Hotel Advisory Committee, the incompetence involved in the City getting grants for the project yet never being capable of actually drawing on those grants, the scathing comments on the project by the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Maryland Department of Economic Development, the out-of-date market studies, the exorbitant per-parking space costs, the constant changes in the project, the fact that just two blocks away at the Visitation Academy a hotel is planned without any City sponsorship or public subsidies, etc etc. Plus as Rick Weldon of the Chamber of Commerce points out the downtown hotel boosters have been at this for a long, long time. He says it’s 12 years!

But the good news is that Mayor O’Connor recognizes the need to end the annual panhandling in Annapolis on behalf of this lemon of a project after this legislative session is done.

$16.5m?

The FNP reports that taxpayer costs (state, county and city) “are set to cover $16.5 million of public infrastructure, including land and on-site public parking and off-site road, utility, streetscape and creek area improvements.”

The News-Post doesn’t source this $16.5m or note that it is below other official estimates.  The latest City One-Pager (so-called) dated December 27, 2018 refers to “Public funds totaling $22.25 million” and shows $11.75m of that contributed by City and County taxpayers, and $10.5m from State grants. 

A single page table Downtown Frederick Public Infrastructure Budget details the categories of spending $22.25m:

Land $4.2m

Parking/podium $16.15m

Off-site works $0.4m

That is $20.75m

The rest of the $22.25m is $1.5m of ‘soft costs’ made up of preliminary development cost of $250k, architecture & engineering $408k, financial, franchise, legal & accounting (Is lobbying in here?) $77k, project management $767k, pre-opening costs $3k (the opening party?)

$16.5m, if it’s a real $#, is a welcome reduction in public commitment. But it will buy less than the $22.25m officially quoted. 

Where are the $5.75m savings?

Eagles property not bought $527k?

Reduce underground car parking from two levels (234 spaces) $16.15m to one level and (160 spaces) $11.6m? $4.6m saved?

We’re now at $5.13m saved, still $620k to go. If the parking garage is only one level then perhaps the architecture and engineering isn’t $408k? And the project management can be squeezed below $767k. And maybe Plamondon will shoulder the $3,000 ‘pre-opening’ (party) cost?

It remains a question whether the project so squeezed is permitable by the City Planning Commission. Without the Eagles land there is no street access to the parking garage beyond a single lane easement. A 2-way driveway ramp is twice the size of the easement.

Plus a 200-room hotel normally needs to provide a parking space for each guest room (and that provides nothing for conference/event attendees.) And the per-parking space cost of the garage already very high at $69k/space ($16.15m/234) for two levels gets even higher with just one level ($11.55m/160 = $72k/space.) 

We’ve asked the City about the $16.5m cost the FNP reported. And we’ll update/edit this when and if they clarify.

FNP report by Samantha Hogan:

https://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/education/funding/house-passes-budget-and-considers-million-for-downtown-hotel/article_1f895949-0bb6-5687-a755-5d34a1f3f1c8.html

UPDATE 11:19: Mayor O’Connor has responded to our question: “When we are fully aware of all of the sources of funds available for the project, we will be able to make the determination you are seeking. The program as currently conceived seeks $10.5 million in state funding along with $11.75 (million) committed from City and County sources. We have $5.0 million authorized at the state already, awaiting Board of Public Works approval. If some portion of the additional $5.5 (million) we are seeking is not realized, we will work with the partners, with funding in the project, to determine the next steps.”

So the City seems to think it has $11.75m City and County funding and $5 million of state funding which is $16.75m.  Maybe someone lost $250k in the arithmetic, and that’s the source for the $16.5m?

If the City also gets the $1.5m that Del C Krimm says she has got in backroom meetings with state appropriations legislators then there’s a total of $18.25m. That assumes the Board of Public Works releases $5m the Governor has previously said won’t be released.  And that the Governor goes along with the $1.5m extra that was never approved (or even discussed) by the Frederick County delegation.

So the battle goes on! 

At least there’s an end in sight if the Mayor sticks by his promise to work from what’s gotten this year and not go back again next year. That’s heartening!

2019.03.15

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