The candidates running for Frederick mayor and aldermen would be hard-pressed to consider themselves serious contenders without having an opinion on the city’s proposed downtown hotel and conference center.
The 180-room hotel and 20,000-square-foot conference center planned for 200-212 E. Patrick St. along Carroll Creek calls for the use of both public and private dollars, with the city set to contribute a third of the $31 million total in public spending, along with the county and state.
The multimillion-dollar project has been in the works for years and gained significant headway with the reveal of the first design in the spring and a major Historic Preservation Commission vote last month.
Sitting elected officials, along with the members of the economic development, business and tourism communities, fully support city taxpayers helping to foot the bill for land acquisition, site preparation, utilities and on-site public parking for the project. However, other members of the public have expressed opposition to the city’s role as a funding partner.
Summary of thoughts
According to interviews performed with the balloted candidates in a recent series of podcasts by The Frederick News-Post, the majority support the city remaining a funding partner, and all who participated support the downtown hotel overall.
Republican Mayor Randy McClement and his opponent on the ballot, Democratic Alderman Michael O’Connor, both fully support the project and the city’s continued funding support.
O’Connor said he believes the city needs to take a more active leadership role in the project, though.
“We have to be the entity that is clearly and unequivocally leading the charge,” he said. “And I’m just not sure, as I’ve watched this process, that that’s been true. It’s been great that we’ve got these great partners, but I don’t think the public is clear, necessarily, about who is actually the captain of the ship.”
McClement explained that the city came in as a partner when the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce began moving forward with it. Now, he said, city officials are working with the chamber and the other partners to bring the project to fruition, which he said, has been challenging because of the funding uncertainties.
“All of [the partners] had stakes both in input and in financial terms,” McClement said. “So it’s not just the city doing this. This is all these partners working together to make this project go forward. I’d be the first to admit ... that getting the financing was the hardest thing to do.”
Of the nine aldermanic candidates interviewed, all but one — Republican Hayden Duke — said they support the city continuing to serve as a funding partner for the project.
Duke said he was against the taxpayers footing the bill, but he supports the project overall. He explained that giving money to this project would not be fair to other businesses that want to locate downtown and do not receive any financial assistance from the city.
Republican Katie Bowersox, the 10th candidate for the Board of Aldermen, did not respond to requests to participate.
Members of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission voted in September to allow for demolition of the early 20th-century Birely Tannery building as long as proper historic mitigation efforts are performed.
The vote spearheaded a series of workshops now underway with the commission to go over the project’s design details. Commissioners will eventually approve the design and it will move on to the city’s Planning Commission for final approval.
The Historic Preservation Commission met in a workshop with developers Plamondon Hospitality Partners and architects with Bates Architects on Sept. 28 and discussed plans for the tannery site once the building is demolished. A workshop held Oct. 8 addressed plans for rehabilitating the neighboring Frederick Trolley building, which most recently housed The Frederick News-Post, into a retail site. The commission is set to meet again Thursday at a workshop and continue design discussions.
Also running parallel to the Historic Preservation Commission’s efforts are meetings between the project partners, key stakeholders and local groups that have missions related to preservation of cultural resources, and the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development and Maryland Historical Trust. The meetings are required as part of the Maryland Historical Trust Act of 1985’s consultation process, which requires state agencies to consult with the trust on projects receiving assistance. The downtown hotel project is set to receive money from the Department of Housing and Community Development. Representatives from the department formulated the guest list and invited attendees to the first meeting held Wednesday, which was not open to the public.
Sara Luell, the department’s director of communications, said in an email that representatives of 19 organizations attended the meeting.
“The historic significance of the site and the proposed plans for the project were discussed, and time was provided for attendees to ask questions and provide comments,” Luell said in the email.
Luell also said several ideas for mitigating the site were discussed but time ran out before any decisions were made. In turn, she said that another meeting will be scheduled to further the discussion.
Richard Griffin, the city’s economic development director, occupied one of the seats at the table Wednesday, representing the Department of Economic Development. He said after the meeting that roughly 50 people attended with almost every historic preservation entity in the community represented.
“We had a good conversation about what’s being lost and what’s being done,” he said.
One idea that particularly struck him was from one of the attendees who suggested making the hotel a hub for telling the story of Frederick.
“We can tell a story of history and the hotel can be an important part of how that story is told,” Griffin said. “I thought that was a good idea.”
Overall, he said he thought the meeting went well and that a lot of good information was shared.
“It was well-attended, the people who came were good speakers and presented their thoughts in a real positive way,” Griffin said. “We looked forward to and hoped to get to that level of interaction with stakeholders.”