Old News-Post building Hotel

A bird’s-eye view of the former Frederick News-Post building on East Patrick Street as seen looking north from the top of the All Saints Street parking deck.

As the Maryland General Assembly 2017 session approaches, and supporters of a downtown Frederick hotel and conference make a final push for the project, the Frederick County delegation remains divided.

Members of the county delegation, in a meeting with Frederick’s mayor and aldermen Thursday morning, were split along party lines on whether to support the $15 million still needed from the state. Republicans said they would not support state funding for the project, while Democrats expressed the opposite.

Delegation members also disagreed on if the project was still viable at all.

The discussion comes after one of five parties in a memorandum of understanding about the project did not sign off on the agreement. The Maryland Stadium Authority board of directors on Nov. 14 voted not to approve the memorandum.

The city and county governments had already signed off on the document when the Stadium Authority voted.

The final two potential partners — Maryland Economic Development Corp., or MEDCO, and private hotel developer Plamondon Hospitality Partners — have not yet signed the agreement.

The memorandum, which laid out financing plans and a schedule for the project, was required for the project to receive the $1 million appropriation included in the state’s fiscal 2017 budget. During the 2016 General Assembly session, state lawmakers also pre-authorized $15 million for the next two budgets.

Funding is not guaranteed. It must be in Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed 2018 and 2019 budgets or added by the General Assembly.

A delegation divided

Delegate Kathy Afzali, R-District 4, on Thursday urged city officials to “lay to rest” the project, which she described as “dead.”

“We are 100 percent on board with the hotel, but we’re not 100 percent on board with $30 million of taxpayers’ money,” she said.

Her comment was in reference to the $31 million in public financing planned to fund public portions of the project — a 24,000-square-foot conference center, parking and infrastructure improvements, according to the latest memorandum of understanding. Plamondon would pay the $53 million cost of the 200-room hotel, the agreement stated.

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.

In an interview after Thursday’s meeting, Afzali predicted that any requests for state funding for the project in the coming legislative session would fail.

“If it comes forward in its same format, we will continue to kill it,” she said.

In the 2016 legislative session, a bill seeking $19.8 million in bond funding for the project through the Stadium Authority failed to move past General Assembly committees. The $16 million — a $1 million capital appropriation, plus $15 million pre-authorized for the next two fiscal budgets — emerged as an alternative put forth in budget amendments by the state conference committee.

Delegates Barrie S. Ciliberti, William Folden and David E. Vogt III and Sen. Michael Hough — all Republicans — voted not to support the 2016 bond bill. Afzali abstained.

Folden, Vogt and Hough reiterated opposition to the project in interviews Thursday. None said they would back the project in the upcoming legislative session.

Delegates Carol Krimm and Karen Lewis Young and Sen. Ron Young, all Democrats who represent the city of Frederick, said they would support the project.

“I’m not going to walk away from it,” said Krimm, District 3A. “It’s too important.”

She emphasized the economic development benefits the project will bring for downtown, east Frederick, and the city and county as a whole. The project will increase the tax base, which in turn reduces the tax burden for local residents, businesses and property owners, she said.

Karen Lewis Young, District 3A, also pointed out that the $16 million capital budget bill passed in the 2016 session came without the backing of the full delegation.

“There are many paths to obtain financing,” she said.

Seeking alternatives

Richard Griffin, the city’s economic development director, on Thursday also hinted at alternative funding sources for the project. He said the scope of the project may change if the costs exceed the anticipated funding, a provision of the latest memorandum.

Griffin did not specify which parts of the project may be revised, or which other funding sources could pay for it. He also did not give a specific estimate of when those decisions might be made.

“It’s a complicated project,” he said. “It’s not a decision you can just make in a single meeting in a single day.”

Only a short time has passed since the Stadium Authority voted down the MOU, he said.

Under the agreement, MEDCO would own the conference center, and may also issue the tax-increment financing bonds planned as the city and county contributions. MEDCO is a state agency that borrows money and issues bonds to help state and local economic development agencies and private companies with projects that benefit the public.

MEDCO’s board in October reviewed but tabled a vote on the agreement amid a request for more information. Bob Brennan, the executive director of MEDCO, said the agency had not yet received a response to its request for information as of Thursday.

He maintained support for the project as a whole, however, calling the idea of a downtown hotel and conference center a “wonderful asset” for the city. He also indicated the agency would be willing to work on the project even without state funding.

Sen. Ron Young, District 3, was less optimistic the project could move forward without state funding.

He still supported the project, he said, but called for the city to “step up” and claim ownership of the conference center in order to receive state support. This support would be critical to securing funding in the next state budget, which may also be the last chance, he said.

“If it isn’t worked out this year, it’s probably dead for a long time,” he said.

Eric Shirk, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Budget and Management, responded to inquiries for comment in an email Thursday.

“The budget process is underway,” he wrote. “It will be announced at the appropriate time in January.”

The Maryland General Assembly 2017 session will begin on Jan. 11.

Staff writer Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.

Follow Nancy Lavin on Twitter: @NancyKLavin.

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

(33) comments

DickD

"The Maryland Stadium Authority board of directors on Nov. 14 voted not to approve the memorandum." Wouldn't the County Council need to take another vote on this as their vote was predicated on help from the Maryland Stadium Authority.

DickD

I am with the Republicans on this! "Republicans said they would not support state funding for the project, while Democrats expressed the opposite."

What kind of pay off is Ron and Karen getting?

KellyAlzan

If Donald trump could win the election, kirbie delaughter has a high chance of winning the county executive seat. I have no doubt.

Jan has worked so hard to get Frederick county back on track. But her support of this one hotel will unequivocally ensure kirbie a victory for the county executive seat. Thus, uprooting all the good work Jan has done.

Jan - i urge you, to withdraw your support, and the county's support for this project. A majority of your constituents are against using state money for this. Along with against taxing guests of competing hotels to pay for this. This hotel will be your demise along with the county's demise. It will be the county's demise as it will be a sure victory for kirbie delaughter's bid for the county executive seat.

Jan - what is more important to the county tax payers? A private owned hotel benefiting the plandoons and Randall's, or keeping Frederick county on the right track?

Balane was voted out of office. That's why you are the county executive. Kirbie has not lost an election to this date.

Jan - please take a long walk and think about everything I have typed

FrederickFan

As a supporter of CE Gardner and everything she has done to bring honor, integrity, long term planning, and thrift back to Frederick County, I sincerely hope someone would step up to offer to pay Delauter's filing fee to run for County Executive next time. Perhaps if you type that, someone will take a walk and pay it.

KellyAlzan

Glad to see you read lennies posts.

when Lennie wrote that, he did not realize how real it is that Kirbie has a very very strong shot at winning :)

Comment deleted.
rbtdt5

The majority of the county supports this? You got a source for that? Just a made up fact?
Also, what office did Kelly run for?

Comment deleted.
bosco

How do you know that the majority of the county supports using taxpayer money to fund the project?

Jane and Ed

We elected them to represent us. 5 of the 8 Frederick Delegation oppose this deal. Two State lending agencies refused to get involved. This should have killed the funding for this project but some of our delegation is still in denial and are using their political power to lobby other state senators and delegates in order to subsidize a Downtown Marriott Hotel and Conference center with upwards of 31M taxpayer money. Clearly the Dems we elected as our representatives FAIL to listen to reason!

Let them know they will lose big in the next election if they keep up this foolishness! Stop letting partisan politics define your representative's legislative agenda! The people on all sides agree that this is a lousy deal and does not reflect the true priorities of the majority of Frederick constituents!
Please, take a moment today to call and to write to the 3 Frederick delegation members who insist on lobbying State legislators for Taxpayer dollars to put more lipstick on the pig!
Senator Ron Young:
301-662-8520 ronald.young@senate.state.md.us
Delegates Karen Lewis Young: 301-662-8520 or send email to: Karen.Young@house.state.md.us
Carol Krimm:
301-858-3472
Carol.Krimm@house.state.md.us
Tell the two delegates and Senator Young to stop wasting precious resources trying to revive this wrong hotel project.
Call City Hall! Tell Mayor McClement to pull the plug. Ph: (301) 600-1385
Tell the County Executive Jan Gardner you have higher priorities! : 301-600-3190 jgardner@FrederickCountyMD.gov
Tell your County Council you don't them to put us in business with a city hotel and Conference center that competes with our County hotels and event spaces! : 301-600-1135 councilmembers@frederickcountymd.gov
#stopPuttingLipstickOnThePig

KellyAlzan

QUOTE
“There are many paths to obtain financing,” she said."

OFFICIAL RESPONSE:
Exactly. PNC has plenty of money to lend. The Plamandoon brothers can get a loan like the rest of us.

bosco

Yep, let the Plamondon$ trot their hiney on down to the bank like the rest of us. The business of government is not business. Let the government get out of the way and let the Plamondon$ proceed with the project if it is a viable project. Then the government can sit back and start collecting taxes immediately. The Young$ need to quit feeding at the public trough.

MAVRICKinc7

But they can't afford the going rate of interest that we are caused to pay. That's why the TIF and bond referendums. Lot's of WORDS recited here, BUT every time we get close to the dirt and details, the FNP, City and County representatives of this deal raise their walls against knowing or having information from which an informed decision can be made by the public. Maybe we should call out our elected officials and have them investigated first, after appropriate FOIA demands are made so we can get past this wall they have built around themselves (as found with Trumpism strategies).

Old Geezer

Like many citizens have said before, If there is a “perceived need “ to accommodate a new hotel, conference center, and internal parking in downtown Frederick, let the developer purchase the land from whoever owns it, develop the plans, get the appropriate licenses and permits and go ahead and build. That’s what any ordinary developer would be doing.
As for the large ‘public’ parking garage to be built adjacent to the hotel, let the city do the same.
It seems to me, and probably many others, that this continually evolving and convoluted plan of private and public financing remains unclear as to who is the beneficiary of the hotel, conference center, and parking, mainly because it smacks of favoritism to the private side with the public picking up the bills if the enterprise fails.
Lastly, would any astute reader let the citizenry of the City of Frederick know about any private/public financed project in the state of Maryland that has succeeded financially?

sofanna

NO ONE in the County of Frederick wants their taxes increased to help fund this project. It will not benefit County residents. It's pie in the sky to believe that the County residents will receive any tax relief or benefit. How can we, if our taxes are being raised? If the City of Frederick insists on going through with this project, let the City taxes fund it. As I've noted before, I think it took a whole lot of nerve for the County to be signed on as a partner. I have never received a formal letter asking me if I wanted to be a partner. I DON'T!

Fredmd21704

Taxes will not go up and frankly taxes will never go down either.

public-redux

I'm not sure if BWI Airport meets your criteria but that is my nominee.

jerseygrl42

Five entities and 4 of them are funded by the taxpayers; this has been a bad idea since inception and should be relegated to the trash bin...and Karen's comment about there being ,many paths to obtain financing are laughable as they all lead to the taxpayers pocket books and wallets...we have too many much more important issues to deal with to spend our money enriching those who already a lot richer than most of us ...she ought to read the article about retirement difficulties for many before proposing we the people pay for this boondoggle...if it can't stand on its own two feet it should not be built....

DickD

Let me see, we have all the local Republicans against the hotel and conference center, the Governor is a Republican and the legislature is Democrat. So, a bill can be passed but is likely to be vetoed by the Governor. The best path seems for the City to step up to the plate and fund it, if the Plamondon family does not want to do it on it's own. And even though Ron and Karen Young are all for it, the local Republicans, on the County Council, Republicans and many Democrat tax payers are against it. All of that weighs against it happening as currently proposed.

Looks like Ron and Karen Young will have to look elsewhere for their campaign donations.

sofanna

If Ron and Karen Young want this project done so badly, let them be a partner for funding and release the liability for the taxpayers!

MAVRICKinc7

Why can't we drop this Republican vs Democrat drama and reduce this conversation to it's component parts, which this FNP coverage, while EDITED by our cast of characters, who have been brought to this table and tabloid WITHOUT sufficient information, from which a decision can reasonably be made.. We are 5 weeks away from this bill dying from it own weight. Let's let it DIE the good death.

petersamuel

Sen. Ron Young is right. City officials need to stop pussyfooting around. Let them say plainly: City government proposes to build, finance, own, operate, pocket any profits, and take responsibility for any losses of a City Conference Center. Instead we have this endless word-spinning doublespeak from the Mayor and Richard Griffin under which the Conference Center is a ‘public’ facility financed by taxpayers who by some miracle of smart legalese and 2-, 4-, or 5-party MOUs are not ‘on the hook’ for any losses. And put it on the ballot in 2017 for City taxpayers to vote: Yes or No.

Burgessdr

Samuel. You say that the City should "take responsibility for any losses of the Conference Center" instead of Plamondon. That's crazy talk. Please explain. Oh what a tangled web you weave.

kimberlymellon

^ This is an excellent example of how the Democratic Party has lost its way. If they don't take off their blinders and start focusing on the working class versus corporate favors at the working class' expense, their time in public service will soon be ended. IMHPO

Fredmd21704

No, its the Republican council.

DickD

You have a point, Kim. Jan, Ron and Karen were supposed to be looking out for our best interests, they are not with this project.

sofanna

They are not looking out for "our" best interests. If they are not 'with this project', why are they pushing so hard for it to be done. FUND the project by selling the golf course.

MAVRICKinc7

Anyone know what "good-faith negotiations" are about? Apparently Kim, Jan, Ron and Karen don't have a clue. Frederick County Council should reject this half baked proposal NOW and stop feathering this bed that City and County are resting in.

jerseygrl42

well stated Kim

bicep42

I rarely agree with Kathy Afzali on anything political, yet I support her position on this 100%. Let a private developer build one or two small boutique hotels downtown which are design appropriate and are financed without any city, county or state taxpayer funds. Don't continue to throw good money after bad. Enough of OUR money has been squandered on study after study and consultant after consultant.

sofanna

Agree! Is anyone in the City, County, or State governments even paying attention to the comments be said here, or in past editions?

rbtdt5

Why would they? I don't think anyone is worried about what 15-20 people say in a city/county of thousands. These posts do no speak for the majority

Old Geezer

Fair enough.

I believe that if the majority of voting citizens of Frederick City and county wants the hotel to happen, they should vote it in. The entire project should be brought to a public vote.
Any takers on who will write the question(s)?

DickD

Unfortunately, you are right, Rabbit.

DickD

In this case, Republican and Democrat citizens are in agreement. Politicians watch out!

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