Boondoggle Team effort to gin up state funding flops — 3 letters & UPDATES

A push for a special meeting of the Frederick County Delegation to pressure Governor Hogan to provide state funds for the City’s decade-old downtown hotel project has flopped. Four Delegates led by vice-chair State Senator Michael Hough have said they won’t participate in a meeting proposed by Delegation chair Carol Krimm. 

Rick Weldon

Krimm proposed the special Delegation meeting on state funding of the hotel in response to a letter from the Chamber of Commerce’s president/CEO Rick Weldon writing on behalf of what he calls the Downtown Hotel Team. Weldon addressed a letter to Krimm asking her “to convene the Delegation for a special meeting” the purpose of which would be to hold a vote to ask Governor Hogan to schedule a Board of Public Works (BPW) vote to release $5 million of State funds appropriated by the General Assembly. (Copy of letter downloadable below)

Weldon said his hotel ‘Team’ needs “a dispositive and conclusive vote on which to take the logical next step in our advocacy efforts,” adding: “A definitive vote, including all of the current members (of the County Delegation) would allow the team to make a formal petition to the Board of Public Works to hold the vote on the $5m already allocated to the (hotel) project.”

The letter to Krimm on Frederick County Chamber of Commerces letterhead begins: “Dear Delegate Krimm, On behalf of the Downtown Hotel Team, I’m writing to you…” The letter is undated but was apparently sent on or about June 10. It is signed by Weldon and concludes: “On behalf of the following partners, we respectfully request that you schedule the vote as soon as practicable. We stand ready to assist with the logistics to facilitate the meeting, just let us know what you need.” 

The boondoggle bros listed

Under Weldon’s signature and credentials is a list of the ‘Hotel Team Members’ on whose behalf he purports to write.

It lists:

— Frederick County Government: County Executive Jan Gardner/Helen Propheter

— City of Frederick: Mayor Michael O’Connor/Richard Griffin

— Visit Frederick: John Fieseler

— Downtown Frederick Partnership: Kara Norman

— Plamondon Hospitality Partners: Pete Plamondon Jr

None of these signed the letter (UPDATE FOLLOWS) but by all indications Weldon spoke for them. Mayor O’Connor said earlier in the year he did not want state funding to be taken to the full Frederick County delegation. ADDITION: A spokesman for Mayor O’Connor said Wednesday he was fully aware of the letter and supported the effort to get the Delegation to vote. Delegation chair Krimm’s plan earlier this year was to work exclusively with Democrat officials in Annapolis, avoiding public debate, and bypassing Republicans. (The county delegation is split equally with four Democrats led by Krimm and four Republicans led by Hough.)

Senator Michael Hough in a letter June 12 (Download a copy below) tells Del. Krimm he doesn’t agree to a special delegation meeting because the legislative process for this year is completed and it is up to the executive branch to do what it does. During the legislative session, Hough writes, hotel funding proponents chose not to have a hearing or vote of the full delegation: “I have long told proponents of the project to follow the regular process (of) holding a delegation hearing before any funding is inserted into the budget…. Hearings are held prior to votes, not afterwards.”

No precedent for pressuring BPW

Hough writes Krimm that legislators “have never met to instruct the Governor on what should be on the BPW agenda.” He notes that Delegates were silent on the recent BPW meeting on toll lanes on 270 and the Beltway. 

Sen. Hough says his basic objection to state funding continues to be about “taxpayer dollars being used to fund a private hotel.” 

“Half the delegation is clearly on the record in opposition to current state funding in the budget for the downtown hotel,” Hough writes to Krimm. He notes that four members of the delegation (himself, Del. Dan Cox, Del. Barrie Ciliberti and Del. Jesse Pippy — the four Republicans) signed a letter March 19 to Governor Hogan asking him not to fund the City hotel project. (Download copy of letter below)

The Republicans in their letter to the Governor March 19 express “our strong opposition” to Democrat delegates’ maneuvers involving $6.5 million for the downtown hotel and conference center. 

This comprised a ‘pre-authorization’ for FY2021 of $1.5m gotten into the capital budget, and a ‘repurposing’ in HB1347 of $5 million of grant funds in the 2016 and 2017 capital budgets which the City failed to draw on. (The City has repeatedly failed to meet deadlines that it proposed itself when applying for state grants for the hotel.)

In the last legislative session the action on these two items totaling $6.5m for the downtown hotel was taken in the General Assembly, they write “without any prior public notice, hearing or discussion… and without any public knowledge of the facts…” The measures were never brought up or discussed at regular meetings of the whole County delegation, the Governor was told.

In conclusion, the four wrote Gov Hogan: “These proposals do not have the majority support or vote of the Frederick County Delegation.”

A vote would only show a dispositive divide

A “dispositive vote” in Weldon’s words would almost certainly show a delegation split equally between those supporting state funding for the City hotel and those opposed.

It is unclear what happens next. We’ve asked the Mayor, the County Executive and delegation chair C. Krimm, and will update the report with anything they care to say.

ADDITION: Rick Weldon told us Wednesday evening: “I was pretty confident that I understood how four GOP delegation members would react, but actually having them react was necessary to make a decision about how or whether to move forward once and for all. Let’s just say that I think we have what we need now to make that determination. These things are not accidental or unintentional.”

The Weldon Whopper

Rick Weldon’s Hotel Team letter to Carol Krimm peddles the misleading claim the project has been cleaned up by cutting earlier taxpayer subsidies toward the hotel and conference center: “All public monies will be used to construct public facilities.” 

That whopper is contradicted by the terms of the June 2018 Amended and Restated MOU, the current contract between the City and Plamondon. 

That 2018 MOU provides that public monies will be used for purchase of the hotel site and for site preparation including archeological studies, demolition, historic mitigation, clearing of the site, any hazardous materials remediation of the soil, all the utilities, road works, sidewalks, landscaping, and creekside work. This is all work specific to the development of the hotel.

Project development costs pre-May 2017 are shared 67% developer, 33% City, and from May 2017 on 78.2% developer, 21.8% City, the MOU provides.

The gold-plated garage down under

But the biggest subsidy for the developer is the City’s commitment to fund the parking garage underneath and the engineered podium or platform above. The parking garage will provide the parking spaces on-site which are required by City code to be provided by the developer. And the podium indicates that all this will be engineered to constitute the foundations of the hotel. The public is asked to fund all the difficult work down in the flood plain. The Hotel Team’s developer gets to build on top of the publicly funded ‘podium’ shown diagrammatically in the thick horizontal line.

Whether the parking garage is $11.55m for a single level and 160 parking spaces or $16.15m for 2 levels and 234 spaces it works out at around $70,000 per parking space (versus $25,000 or so in a structured deck) 

$70k/parking space makes no sense as a City parking garage.

Plus it’s relevant that the hotel site is just a block away from the seven-level East All Saints Parking Deck, a garage that is normally two-thirds empty. If the city wanted to build car parking for the sake of car parkers rather than to build the hotel’s foundations, they’d be eying North Market Street (perhaps the Carmack Jay site) not the hotel’s east side for more parking. 

COMMENT: A poorly located and gold-plated underground garage with an engineered podium atop is not a ‘public facility’ worth the name. It’s a political contrivance to dress up a boondoggle. 

DOWNLOAD LETTERS CITED

P Sam 2019.06.18

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