ANNAPOLIS — It could become more acrimonious in Annapolis soon — at least as far as Frederick County lawmakers are concerned.
The hiatus in the debate over funding for a downtown Frederick hotel and conference center has come to an end after the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee voted to recommend $16 million in state bond funding for the project.
With little debate, the committee approved a slew of changes to the capital budget Wednesday afternoon.
The move comes after the House Appropriations Committee agreed with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in striking the General Assembly’s prior authorizations for project funding earlier this session.
When Hogan’s fiscal 2018 budget was unveiled in January, it removed a previous authorization of a $1 million grant for design and planning related to the proposed downtown hotel and conference center. The governor’s capital budget bill also removed $15 million in preauthorizations for bond funding in 2018 and 2019 that the General Assembly passed last year to support the project.
With the Senate committee’s actions Wednesday, the structure of the funding was changed, but still adds up to the $16 million approved or reauthorized by the General Assembly in 2016.
The committee’s version of the capital budget is expected to go before the full Senate later this week.
As amended, the 2018 capital budget would include a $1 million grant for planning and design for the downtown hotel and conference center project, while also removing language that made the funding contingent on a memorandum of understanding signed by the Maryland Stadium Authority, county executive and County Council, Frederick’s mayor and Board of Aldermen, and the private developer of the property.
Last year, the Maryland Stadium Authority and then the Maryland Economic Development Corp. voted not to get involved with the project as it was structured at the time.
Other amendments to funding for the project include adding $4 million in bond appropriation in fiscal 2018, a $7.5 million pre-authorization for the 2019 fiscal year and a $3.5 million pre-authorization for the 2020 fiscal year.
Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, who supports the project, said he was pleased that the committee was moving forward with funding.
“I expected it, but until it happens, you’re still surprised,” Young said. “I’m sure there will still be a little bit of a battle over it.”
Republican members of Frederick County’s General Assembly delegation have opposed state funding for the project over the past two years.
Sen. Michael Hough, R-District 4, said he was told earlier in the week the funding would not be recommended. “This is nothing more than a backroom deal to pay back Frederick Democrats for their partisan votes to raise taxes and overturn Governor Hogan’s vetoes,” Hough said in a written statement. “It’s a big fat taxpayer gift to their re-election campaigns.”
Lobbyist Bruce Bereano represents Randy Cohen, owner of the Clarion Inn Frederick Event Center, and Brad Kline, developer of a proposed hotel and conference center at Jefferson Tech Park. Bereano said he will continue to lobby against the project, which he says pits private businesses against unfair government competition.
“This matter is not over,” Bereano said. “…Don’t book your room yet.”
The capital and operating budgets move separately through the House of Delegates and Senate. The House passed a version of the budget first this year, and is being followed by the Senate.
Differences between the two versions of the budget will be ironed out by a conference committee of five senators and five delegates.
It was a conference committee that added the bond funding for the conference center project in an end-of-session amendment last year.
The General Assembly’s informal deadline for a final budget is April 3.
Once passed, the governor has line-item veto authority when it comes to capital budget appropriations.
If bills are passed by both chambers early enough in the session — with at least six days remaining — the House and Senate could immediately override any veto by the governor.
The proposed hotel and conference center property at 200 and 212 E. Patrick St. is owned by a business entity formed by members of the Randall family. The Randall family also owns the parent company of The Frederick News-Post.
Plans for the 207-room Marriott and 24,000-square-foot conference center are based on a combination of public and private dollars. Plamondon Hospitality Partners is expected to pay $53 million for the hotel portion of the project.