A familiar duel between people for and against Frederick’s proposed downtown hotel and conference center played out over several hours Wednesday at a public workshop on some of the latest project plans.
And after nearly four hours, questions remained and members of the Board of Aldermen were still hashing out details of the revised and restated draft memorandum of agreement, which they will approve at a future public hearing.
The meeting lasted a grand total of four hours and nineteen minutes, and by the end, the aldermen concluded that they wanted officials to tighten up some language about parking and historic mitigation before the document comes to them for a final vote in June.
The document maps out the public and private cost-share estimates between the city and developers Plamondon Hospitality Partners, as well as development details for the planned multimillion-dollar hotel and conference center slated for 200-212 E. Patrick St. The final agreement will replace the most recent agreement city officials and developers signed in October 2016.
Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, presented details of the document Wednesday before the elected officials and members of the public began digging into it.
The aldermen spent roughly two hours discussing it, and after a break, the first public commenters were invited to speak. By that time, the crowd had dwindled, and those who spoke included a mixture of project proponents and opponents, with those against it slightly outnumbering those in favor.
The naysayers criticized details such as the chosen site, parking plans, development process, and historic mitigation efforts. Those who spoke in favor talked up the expected economic boost and referenced the desperate need for a hotel downtown, among other projected positives.
Besides an increase in the number of rooms — from 180 to 199 — one of the main changes in the latest document is a decrease in the amount of public dollars estimated to come jointly from the city, Frederick County and the state of Maryland. The previous agreement estimated $31 million, while the latest one projects $17.5 million.
The reduction is a result of state legislators declining to authorize $11 million in future grants during the 2018 General Assembly session. The expected state allocation is now $5.75 million, which requires approval from the Maryland Board of Public Works before its release.
Project partners were hoping to use the larger sum of state money for a second layer of parking.
The project is slated now to include one level of parking with 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.
Griffin said the original request for information for the project called for a total 250 public parking spaces to accommodate the project at that time, which was a little larger. With the number of extra spaces in the garage and 129 more spaces now freed up in the East All Saints Street garage due to the removal of the tenant from the former social services building, the city is about 64 parking spaces short of meeting that requirement, Griffin explained.
One of the main concerns both members of the public and elected officials expressed Wednesday was about parking. Several of the aldermen questioned the discrepancy between the planned extra parking and the number of rooms slated for the hotel. They also referenced current parking issues downtown.
Griffin threw out some ideas to address the concerns, which included installing another parking facility later on, building a circulator that moves people around, establishing off-site parking lots, and creating more valet parking options.
“There are ways urban environments take care of their parking needs on a regular basis,” he said.
In turn, Mayor Michael O’Connor warned the aldermen not to hang their hats on a potential lack of parking downtown.
“We don’t want this project to drive a parking conversation,” he said. “This project will build the parking it needs.”
The draft agreement also maps out a cost-share for the mitigation of the historic elements of the site, which was not included in prior agreements.
The aldermen asked several other questions before the members of the public stepped up and offered their feedback.
Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak asked how the ground lease terms were figured out, which led to a long conversation about overall ground lease developments.
Alderman Derek Shackelford asked what would happen if the developers default on their loan payments. He also drove some of the inquiries about the parking.
The developers are estimated to provide $55 million for the hotel and conference center and $7 million for the renovation of the historic Frederick Railroad building, which most recently housed The Frederick News-Post’s headquarters, for a retail site. They are also set to enter into a 99-year lease for the land for a total of $12 million. The city is set to purchase the land, and officials have conducted appraisals to obtain a third-party evaluation of the value, according to the agreement.
This story has been updated to add details from the end of the workshop, which ended after deadline Wednesday.