Downtown hotel 1

An artist’s rendering of the downtown hotel and conference center project, as viewed from the northwest corner of Patrick and Carroll streets.

Advocates and opponents of a proposed downtown hotel and conference center got a chance on Wednesday to question historic preservation aspects of the project.

Parties involved in the project, who organized Wednesday night’s session, billed the event as part of a commitment to an open and transparent process. Many in attendance agreed that the session was informative, even if they didn’t agree with some of the statements made. But a few of the roughly two dozen local residents and preservationists took issue with the controlled nature of the question portion of the event.

The meeting came on the heels of information presented last week about the remnants of a 19th-century tannery building on the site proposed for the hotel and conference center. Kann Partners, a Baltimore-based consultant retained by hotel developer Plamondon Hospitality Partners to research and facilitate applications related to historic preservation, concluded that the Birely Tannery building is ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The tannery is slated for demolition under plans to build a the 200-room hotel and 24,000-square-foot conference center with on-site parking and infrastructure improvements at the site of the old Frederick News-Post building. The property is owned by a business entity formed by members of the Randall family. The Randall family also owns the parent company of The News-Post.

Write-in question format criticized

The Wednesday event included an opportunity for questions, which participants submitted on pieces of paper that were then read aloud to the consultant team by John Fieseler, executive director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County and member of the Downtown Hotel Advisory Committee.

It was the style of this question-and-answer session, more than the information presented itself, that some people criticized.

Fieseler explained that the format of the question session was used successfully in Frederick Speaker Series events. It minimizes the possibility of repeat questions on the same topic and stops a single speaker from dominating the conversation, Fieseler said in an interview after the meeting.

He described the question format as effective and efficient, comments echoed by Pete Plamondon Jr., co-president of Plamondon Hospitality Partners, and Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership, who also helped plan the event.

But some who submitted questions disagreed.

Mary Frances Mickevich, a city resident who submitted a question about how the new design would fit the surrounding streetscape, said in an interview after the event that the format of the question portion was “very controlled,” which she did not necessarily see as a good thing,

“It makes it nice and easy for the people sitting up there,” she said, gesturing to the consultants at the front of the room. “It’s very civil, but I don’t know that that really benefits the process.”

“If they were committed to dialogue they would have let the people here stand up and ask questions, the Frederick way,” she added.

“It seems more like words [than action],” Gil House, an Urbana resident and local historian, said of project partners’ statements regarding dialogue and transparency.

Bernie Callan, a local resident who has been involved with historic preservation on the city, county and state levels, also said he was unsure if the format was the best way to engage in public dialogue.

“It seems like they didn’t answer some of the questions,” Callan said, although he noted that this could also be because the questions did not pertain to the scope of the topics presented that night.

One question that Fieseler read that was not directly addressed, for example, was how a determination by the state or local historic group that the tannery was eligible for a designation would affect redevelopment plans.

When told later about these concerns, Pete Plamondon said those who had follow-up questions or questions they did not feel were adequately answered could have spoken to consultants one-on-one once the event ended, which they were invited to do.

Archaeological
review details

The final decisions regarding the tannery’s historic significance and preservation have not been made. Kann will submit its conclusion and accompanying research to the Maryland Historical Trust, the state agency that determines if the tannery can be on the National Register. The city Historic Preservation Commission will weigh in on the building’s historical significance as it relates to the Frederick Town Historic District.

Part of the submission to the state will include results of archaeological testing on the site, which will begin next week.

Mechelle Kerns, principal archaeologist for Kerns CRM Consultants, the Annapolis-based firm serving as the archaeological consultant for the project, detailed the plans for the site testing, as well as reports from prior archaeological tests done in the 1980s and 1990s as part of the Carroll Creek flood control and park project.

Kerns also addressed concerns voiced previously about potential contaminants on the site, which she called “a fallacy.”

The pre-industrial tanning industry had no access to the kinds of chemicals that would contaminate the soil, she said. Nor did prior archaeological and soil testing reveal the presence of these chemicals.

“I wouldn’t be digging there if there was,” she said.

Archaeological testing, originally slated to begin Wednesday, has been postponed until next week due to delays with the contractor hired to remove the gravel and blacktop, which is necessary before archaeological testing can begin, according to Pete Plamondon.

Project consultants are on track to submit results of the archaeological research to the state next month, The Frederick News-Post has reported. The slightly later start date for the archaeological site work will not affect that timeline, Pete Plamondon said.

Design plans are also targeted for a September submission date to the city. Initial renderings from when Plamondon in 2014 responded to the city request for proposals have been widely circulated, but final design plans, which must meet the city’s requirements for the Frederick Town Historic District, have not yet been finalized or made public.

Follow Nancy Lavin on Twitter: @NancyKLavin

Nancy Lavin covers social services, demographics and religion for The Frederick News-Post.

(36) comments

KellyAlzan

And jan Gardner supports this thing

elymus43

This seems like a "dog and Pony show".

MAVRICKinc7

IT IS!

Hammer

There is still no proper market study for the conference center. Does it have a chance to succeed? Why should the public pay for it? Why does the public not really benefit from it? What is the competitive market set, what geographic range, how many competing properties and how are they fitting within the parameters?

MAVRICKinc7

Who doesn't understand "have not as yet been finalized or made public" Isn't that a red flag for saying overrun cost, added debt at the public's expense is anticipated.

Are We naive enough not to reach any other conclusion. We take written questions because Frederick doesn't want to be bothered by public input or involvement. It's a strategy made of PLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY. Look around. This hotel and conference center project is still a work in progress and the principle parties have yet to tell it's tax payers how deep this public debt will go.

We are on the outside and being allowed ONLY to LOOK in and CONTROLLED by those who prefer not to be found out. What is it about this oligarchy style of government don't we understand.

Didn't we go through the same motions when Young, Delauter, Shreve and Smith were at the helm. Is the Frederick government and elected officials any different than those who were once in charge of our resident's assumptions and speculation on what was really going on at town hall ? So far the Randall family and Plamondon Hospitality have been provided a BLANK CHECK at tax payer expense.and a box of written questions that will necessarily be put on a back shelf collecting dust.

Jane and Ed

I will share more tomorrow about the Kann presentation tonight, but for tonight let me say, it was clear to me that the minds of the historian, and archaeologist were already made up about the tannery. The historian said the Tannery is in bad shape, but didn't dare to go inside without a structural engineer, downplayed the importance of this being the last tannery in Frederick, denied the structure was worthy of preservation and reuse, based on the changes over time that left many of the original parts damaged or destroyed by fire, and she discounted the significance of tanning to our history, and denied the contribution of the Bireley family in spite of the facts at hand.
The archaeologist explained they will not be doing a thorough archaeological dig. It will be phase 1 and 2 which are shallow and perfunctory. These may include a number of 1x1 blocks along the property, and this,was not a full on dig, because they are paid by the developer to basically clear the path for the hotel development. She made statements about the Sanborn maps saying tgey were for insurance purposes, and seemed to want us to believe the existence of maps from the civil war era would corroborate her belief there was no chemical waste on site. They were. Use painting the town in lead paint while Sanborn was recording the buildings, not the chemistry of the parcels so I found that absurd.
She explained phase 3 could be happening as the developer was building the hotel and conference center so they would be grabbing and salvaging whatever they found at that time.
She was emphatic in stating her opinion that there was no contamination on site based on previous tests which were not looking for tannery waste and historical articles in books and old newspaper reports stating the Bireleys used bark not chemicals like arsenic. And she said (from what we know there were only the 6 core samples a long way from the direction of the earlier tannery or stream, taken for plamondon) previous site work had not revealed any toxins. (I believe the sight was recorded as contaminated with chromium in levels not safe for residential developent. ) The logic is not right. Just because the Bite let tannery used bark doesn't mean they or the three other tanneries on the site excluded using any other methods. Arsenic wa's used in beauty creams for hundreds of years. To say this without comprehensive testing is unscientific.

The meeting organizers made sure to record what the panel presented. They will use this to promote their project. The panel seemed quite convinced that what their client wanted was just what they are quite willing to affirm. I hope they will open their minds to the facts presented by the Preservationists and Environmentalists.

All of what the proponents and Plamondons wanted the public to hear was recorded and will be on the hotel website but they stopped recording before they took public questions written on little cards for the panelists. I tried recording that question and answer period because to my mind, what the public needs to hear are,answers to the questions the public wants to ask, more than what the proponents want you to know. Many of us are tired of this performance. But once my phone battery died, I had to borrow a phone from a friend and started recording more, but that was interrupted by an incoming phone call on her phone...I will see what I have today.
Organizing the question and answer period this way was very efficient. But since the questions were grouped into clusters and not read verbatim, and were paraphrased by John Feissler for the panelists, none of us knew who asked what, or whether the questions had been changed significantly. The panelists seemed to move past some of the inqueries that way and use this as another opportunity to give the client what they wanted. On the one hand, it was expeditious, and anonymity can in some circumstances be a help free shy people to ask questions, but in this case it felt oppressive. This was a way to control the answers and it prevented us knowing the concerns of other attendees. And for the record, I knew that my question was not read as I wrote it. It was recognizable but paraphrased vaguely which I think changed the answer given. Also, this control over the q and a period did not allow the public to clarify or interact with the panelists except for after the meeting. It was not at all open dialogue. It was a powerful way to suppress public discourse.
I learned the Kann consultants have built a case against preserving the Tannery. I know now, how the proponents pay consultants( using 1/3 public funding?) to even spin history, and science to suit their agenda. No longer surprised, but still makes me sick.
We heard,again that there will be local Historic Preservation Commission meetings and the design is not final, but all in all I was left feeling like I had been invited to enjoy a free getaway, but found myself in a time share resort infomercial.

MAVRICKinc7

Ever been confronted with HIRED GUNS who are paid by those holding all the cards while you're just along for the ride?

Burgessdr

This ramble is exactly why they asked for written questions

jerseygrl42

a very controlled chance to speak ; what baloney, only 1 person allowed to speak on a subject ...talk about stifling public opinion about how their tax dollars are to be spent...this is shameful and reminds me of similar tactics used against those who objected to the $3 Billion trash incinerator that also would have made a ton of money for the precious few....if this hotel can't make a profit without the taxpayers being held up for $50 Million+ then it should NOT be built and no amount of these shenanigans is going to make it look any better to those who understand whats going on here .

MAVRICKinc7

It's not going to be $50M, but it will be more. If you were provided a blank check, what would you make it out to be. Why not ask your Frederick City elected officials. Or call in Ron and Karen Young to answer since they OK's the project before it was even proposed.

Comment deleted.
BlueDawn666

So you were there Donald? Well dish tell us what really happened? You seem not to care that you are being played for a fool, I am curious what questions you asked, or was it just you ummm making kissing noises ?

Comment deleted.
DickD

Rather nasty, Burgess, I find Peter Samuel's comments very coherent. [thumbdown]

DickD

I don't care what they do, just don't use state or County money to do it!

KellyAlzan

👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

Dwasserba

Very nicely written summary. Thank you.

bicep42

This was a carefully crafted and manipulated "presentation " to support the developers' case. The public wasn't permitted to ask the questions that they deserve answers to. Any "experts " can be overpaid to provide the exact information that supports what the proponents of this massive taxpayer funded debacle require in order to move this project forward on a questionable site. The health and safety of local residents and/or future guests obviously isn't important.

Jane and Ed

Exactly.

BlueDawn666

HUH????

The pre-industrial tanning industry had no access to the kinds of chemicals that would contaminate the soil, she said. WOW what an unintelligent statement to make. That statement just makes my head HURT....

Nor did prior archaeological and soil testing reveal the presence of these chemicals....you sure about that and could be because there has yet to be any comprehensive site testing done, so again another unintelligent statement that makes my head HURT....

“I wouldn’t be digging there if there was,” she said....well yeah you would, you would dig anywhere if the price was high enough.

Dwasserba

Yes, was arsenic involved? Not being an expert, I now thought maybe contaminants used back then dissipate in the soil, so it would be nice to be able to let that concern go.

jerseygrl42

MDE says it was and will have to be dealt with once the deal is baked

petersamuel

I felt sorely tempted to break their rule of only written questions because it meant there was no opportunity to ask more than the short sentence that would fit on a question card. But it was Plamondon's meeting and they were entitled to set the rules. Their defensiveness reflects the deep trouble in which the project's sponsors find themselves. The meeting was staged by Plamondon for their consultants to sell the line that somehow extensive demolitions of historic buildings is compatible with historic preservation in a designated historic district. It is an impossible sell. Plamondon and the City have chosen a site quite unsuited to the grossly oversized and overfeatured hotel complex they specified. The Maryland Historic Trust and the City's Historic Preservation Commission would make a mockery of their underlying mission if they permit this to proceed. Nothing said in the presentations can detract from the fact that the two buildings on the site are important historic buildings, both capable of being restored and made into interesting, productive structures that preserve our heritage. If someone wants to build a huge splashy hotel downtown there are several much better sites with no need to demolish our history a block away. Smaller simpler specialized hotels would fit the historic district much better and could be accomplished without all this taxpayer money and political angst. P Samuel

gary4books

They ought to survey the local shops where the hotel will bebuilt and ask if they wnt it or not. Perhaps they can also suggest changes to the plan to make sure it is a benefit to all. That might counter the opinions of those who do not even live in or like Frederick.

Dwasserba

If I owned a shop, I would like anything that possibly increases foot traffic. What's not to like. Please spare the cost of this study!

gary4books

Cost? I would walk around and get a representative sample- say 50 shops and then put it in a spread sheet with graphs for another three hours of work. Total about $250. What cost?

Positive

Here are 77 photos of local shops and merchants in support of the downtown hotel and conference center. https://www.facebook.com/StayDowntownFrederick/photos/?tab=album&album_id=741674232600234

BlueDawn666

Kann Partners, a Baltimore-based consultant retained by hotel developer Plamondon Hospitality Partners to research and facilitate applications related to historic preservation, concluded that the Birely Tannery building is ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places......well of course they concluded that, they were paid by the Plamondon's to conclude that, that was the only conclusion they could reach. So we are to trust their conclusions, conclusions they were paid to come to?

jthompson

If the format permitted cross examination, an inquiry into the amount of compensation the consultants received or will receive for their services would be proper, as would an inquiry into how often the consultant arrived at a conclusion adverse to the person who paid them.

BlueDawn666

LOL..exactly..

jerseygrl42

EXACTLY

MAVRICKinc7

It's the nature and scope of being a hired gun.

kimberlymellon

Who's meeting was this? The developer's, right? Did Plamondon pay Feisler, Frederick County Tourism Council Head and Drop another donation in the pot of The Downtown Partnership for Cara Norman to help coordinate accomplish the zoning requirements for a community information presentation with feedback to the developer? And that feedback was managed by paper questions? Do I have this correct?

Burgessdr

Written questions force people to ask intelligent questions, rather than an opportunity to trash talk.

DickD

It also allows for total control and stifles communication.

MAVRICKinc7

DITTO!

MAVRICKinc7

Written questions boil down to nothing more than a one way conversation.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Engage ideas. This forum is for the exchange of ideas, insights and experiences, not personal attacks. Ad hominen criticisms are not allowed. Focus on ideas instead.
TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
No trolls. Off-topic comments and comments that bait others are not allowed.
No spamming. This is not the place to sell miracle cures.
Say it once. No repeat or repetitive posts, please.
Help us. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.