A pair of state grant applications for the proposed downtown hotel and conference center moved forward Thursday with the blessing of the Frederick Board of Aldermen.
But it wasn't before members asked several questions about the scope of the project and heard from the public and city and county staff members.
“There is a different level of public interest,” Alderman Michael O’Connor said of the requests and the discussions surrounding them. “The questions they are asking, the concerns they are raising, are questions and concerns we will continue to address through this process.”
A total of $5 million in the form of two Maryland Capital Projects Grant agreements — one for $1 million and one for $4 million — were originally placed on the consent agenda for approval without discussion. But before the aldermen took a vote, Alderman Phil Dacey asked to pull them out so he could get some clarification on the details.
Dacey asked Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, to explain the requests and details about the distribution of the money.
The money is part of a total $16.85 million in public funds from city, county and state sources that is tentatively allocated for the project through the newest cost assessments. The requests the aldermen approved unanimously Thursday are for legal agreements between the city and the state of Maryland for money the General Assembly approved in the last legislative session.
Griffin explained that the money can be used for the acquisition, planning, design, construction, repair, renovation, and reconstruction of the hotel and conference center planned for 200-212 E. Patrick St.
The board’s approval is one of several steps needed to use the money.
The state’s Board of Public Works is also required to approve the agreements. Griffin said the mayor and Board of Aldermen must also approve a final master development plan as well as funding agreements and leases between the city and the developer, Plamondon Hospitality Partners. The project also requires approval of a memorandum of agreement with the Maryland Historical Trust, and development plan approvals from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, Planning Commission, and permits department before the money is distributed.
Dacey and several of the other aldermen emphasized that the approval is one of a series of steps toward developing the hotel and conference center.
Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak said she still has some concerns about the project and the city’s contribution, which she hopes will be answered as things move forward.
“I am absolutely for a downtown hotel and conference center, but every step we take forward, that is money we are spending with the chance of [the project] not going through,” she said.
Several members of the public also spoke Thursday in opposition to the project.
Complaints ranged from not wanting to tear down the historic Birely Tannery building at the site, which is part of the plans, to accusing the mayor, aldermen and city staff of not being transparent in cost analyses and other details as they move forward with the plans.
Mayor Randy McClement assured attendees at the end of the meeting that everyone working on the project is trying to be as transparent as possible, but that right now it is too early to provide a lot of specific details.
“We knew there would be a lot of processes to go through,” he said. “We are trying to do our best to put out as much information as we can, but it’s somewhat negotiated as we go along.”
The design of the roughly $80 million project was revealed in May. Plans include a four-floor, 180-room hotel, 20,000-square-foot conference center and a 160-space underground parking facility.
The city, Frederick County and the state are partnering with Plamondon to fund the project. The public entities are set to chip in a total of about $31 million in public funds, and Plamondon is set to contribute the remainder of the cost.
Plamondon is set to fund the all of the construction and operation costs, while the public money will be used for expenses including land acquisition, site preparation, utilities and on-site public parking.
Moving parallel to the grant application request, the Historic Preservation Commission is set to have its first public meeting on the development plans Thursday.
The city, Plamondon Hospitality and Randall Family LLC, which owns two of the buildings on the site, jointly filed four applications June 15 regarding the project, The applications include a request to demolish of the back portion of the former Frederick News-Post building at the site, renovation plans for the remaining portion of the building, a request to demolish the Tannery building at the site, and plans detailing construction of the proposed hotel.