Conflict and criticism of the downtown hotel and conference center project has spread to the 2018 election campaign, including among the three Democratic candidates vying to represent District 3A in the Maryland House of Delegates.
In a race largely characterized by agreement and shared viewpoints, the multimillion-dollar project has divided delegates Carol Krimm and Karen Lewis Young from challenger Ryan Trout. The rift was briefly highlighted in a forum on Tuesday hosted by the progressive advocacy group Our Revolution Western Maryland and further detailed in follow-up interviews.
Latest project details, outlined in a drafted but not yet final agreement between hotel developer Plamondon Hospitality Partners and the city of Frederick, call for a 199-room hotel and 20,000-square-foot conference center at 200-212 E. Patrick St. There would also be on-site parking and other public infrastructure improvements.
The $79.5 million price of the project combines about $62 million in private funding from Plamondon with $17.5 million from the city and county governments and the state capital budget.
The public-private partnership used to fund the project has attracted controversy and criticism from local residents as well as some members of the Frederick County delegation, who in recent years have opposed including additional money in the state’s capital budget for the project. Despite divides in the delegation and other detractors, delegates Krimm and Lewis Young have remained staunch supporters of the project and the inclusion of state funding to support its development.
Trout, however, questioned certain elements of the project.
Among his concerns was that project agreements thus far have not specified the salaries and benefits for workers employed by the project — both in the construction as well as the continued operation of the hotel and corresponding services. For Krimm and Lewis Young, who both pledged support in the forum for bringing jobs with living wages and adequate benefits to Maryland, to champion a project where there are no guarantees that its future employees will make enough money to afford basic costs of living was “hypocritical,” Trout said.
Though he acknowledged he did not know exact salaries or benefits intended for these workers, Trout noted that service industry employees typically do not earn high wages. Referencing a recent report commissioned by the United Ways of Maryland that suggests one-third of Frederick County families did not earn enough to afford basic costs of living, he feared the project would perpetuate their socioeconomic struggle.
Trout framed it as taxpayers being on the hook twice, both in the taxes that provide public funding for the project, and again when its employees turn to taxpayer-funded social welfare programs such as food stamps and housing subsidies because their wages don’t cover these needs. He called for project organizers and supporters to “take a step back” until agreements ensuring living wages and benefits were included.
In response, Krimm said that expectation was unrealistic, noting that since the developer’s funds are paying for the hotel, it’s up to the company to set the wages and benefits of its future hotel workers.
As for construction, she pointed to recent demand for skilled workers creating a competitive enough environment that she believed would offer higher wages.
Lewis Young also defended her stance, calling Trout’s criticism narrow-minded in light of the big-picture benefits the project will bring.
“To make the whole project a go-no-go over getting a signed decision on a living wage is very shortsighted,” Lewis Young said. “You need to look at the bigger picture of how many other jobs it will create, how much incremental employment ... this project is a driver for economic opportunity.”
Both emphasized that such an agreement was a matter for the city of Frederick to decide, not the state Legislature.
“If [Trout] feels it’s an important issue, he should go to the city and express this reasoning,” Krimm said.
The disagreement between the two incumbents and their challenger contrasted with the largely congenial forum featuring the three candidates earlier this week.
The three shared similar perspectives on support for universal health care, renewable energy, public education and job creation and training programs, among other topics.
The forum also featured brief introductions from the Democratic candidates seeking to represent District 3B and 4 in the House of Delegates.
District 3A includes the city of Frederick and surrounding areas. Delegates serve four-year terms and earn $50,330 annually.
The 2018 primary election is June 26, and the general election follows on Nov. 6.