A game-changer for the city, an economic driver and a PR nightmare summed up Frederick Alderman Derek Shackelford’s comments about the proposed downtown hotel project before a unanimous vote Thursday on the latest agreement with developers.
Shackelford’s words rang out ahead of similar ones from Alderman Ben MacShane and Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak after board members spent nearly three hours hashing out the details of the new memorandum of understanding between the city and developers Plamondon Hospitality Partners.
The document maps out the public and private cost-share estimates and development details for the planned multimillion-dollar project slated for 200-212 E. Patrick St. It replaces an agreement that city officials and developers signed in December 2015.
The newly adopted agreement nixes a second level of parking, raises the total room number from 180 to 199, and includes a breakdown of mitigation costs for the historic elements of the site, among other changes.
New cost-share estimates are also different. The document shows a total $17.5 million of public funds coming jointly from the city, Frederick County and the state of Maryland. The previous agreement estimated $31 million. The reduction is a result of state legislators declining during the 2018 General Assembly session to authorize $11 million in future grants that officials were hoping to use for the second layer of parking.
Board members hosted a lengthy workshop in May where they discussed the intricate details of the proposed draft agreement and heard feedback from the public. The final document includes several changes to that draft, as well as a list of revisions clarifying details of the project that officials sent out hours before Thursday’s meeting began. Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, said those revisions were based on comments staff members received from the aldermen and the public since the workshop.
The aldermen, staff members and developers also spent about an hour at Thursday’s hearing tweaking specific language in various parts of the agreement — most notably details of the historic mitigation of the site — before they were satisfied with it.
“Language is important,” Kuzemchak said while apologizing to the room for rehashing some of the same details officials had already discussed.
Proper historic mitigation is required for the former Birely Tannery building, which is slated for demolition, and surrounding site on the property. A working agreement with the Maryland Historical Trust maps out those efforts. If members of the trust do not sign the agreement, though, the new memorandum of understanding states the developers and other project partners will collaborate on their own mitigation plan based on its contents. Mayor Michael O’Connor said multiple times he does not anticipate the trust not signing the agreement.
Two former Historic Preservation Commission chairmen, Scott Winnette and Dan Lawton, had different thoughts on the mitigation agreement. Winnette argued against the simplified approach, saying that the agreement is not complete and includes only “archaeology and pictures inside the hotel.” Lawton suggested offering a program to provide funding to other historic property owners as part of the effort.
Winnette and Lawton were part of the modest crowd who attended Thursday’s hearing and offered feedback about the details of the agreement.
Proponents such as Downtown Frederick Partnership Director Kara Norman and Elizabeth Cromwell, president and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, expressed their support for the project in Thursday’s public comment session.
On the flip side, familiar project opponents including Anthony Moscato, chairman of the Frederick Preservation Trust, a local preservation advocacy group, downtown resident Peter Samuel and Middletown resident Jane Weir objected to details such as the chosen site, development process, lack of publication of details along the way, and historic mitigation plans.
Parking has also been a concern. The project is slated to include one level of parking with a total of 160 spaces. The city’s land management code reportedly requires the developers to include roughly 120 spaces for the hotel, which leaves about 40 for the public. Concerns about parking were so prominent in the May workshop discussions, though, that the agreement was altered to include a call for the partners to collaborate and create a future parking overflow plan.
As for the overall timeline for the project, Griffin said the developers are still working through the site plan, which will eventually go before the city’s Planning Commission. He said this process is a lengthy one and that the commissioners have not seen the official plans yet.