The proposed downtown Frederick hotel and conference center has been years in the making, and historically, local senators and delegates have stayed true to party lines when it comes to supporting use of public money for development.
While city and county officials from both parties have voted to provide local funds for the project, Republicans representing Frederick County in the General Assembly have opposed state funding plans and Democrats have voted in favor of them. As it stands, the candidates running for the Senate in District 3 are no exception.
Republican Craig Giangrande, Sen. Ron Young’s challenger, is a Frederick businessman, and said via email in response to a question about the project that he generally supports it.
“As a resident and businessman of Frederick City, I encourage the developer and the city to work under current rules of zoning, historical review, traffic review, building review, and site plan approval to make this happen. Just like any other commercial undertaking,” he said.
That comes with a catch, however.
“Absent clear, convincing evidence of public benefit, I don’t support public funds being used for private enterprise,” he said. “In this case I don’t see such evidence, so I would not support the state providing millions of dollars to the deal.”
Young, however, has consistently voted in favor of providing state funds for the project — along with his fellow Democratic representatives in Annapolis — and said via email that he fears for the project if he is not returned to office.
“I believe the project as presently proposed, will definitely be threatened if I am not re-elected,” he said. “With two republicans from Frederick County in the Senate opposing the project it will have no chance of passing because of local courtesy. Senator [Mike] Hough and my opponent have indicated their support for whatever Governor [Larry] Hogan wants.”
Both Hough and Hogan are Republicans.
Young added that the project has a pledge from leadership that members of the Legislature will find money for infrastructure for the city to support the hotel and other projects in the area, but that the governor still opposes the project, which is concerning to him.
“I will point out once more that the resulting economic development in the area will more than pay the State back from the new taxes generated,” Young said. “It further appears that the Governor will continue to oppose the project. I cannot ensure anything other than we shall continue to try to move the project forward despite the Governor’s opposition. The governor claims he supports economic development yet he goes against a project that has been part of a state, county, and city plan for decades.”
Giangrande added that he did not support raising the county’s hotel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent, a move local officials made in August 2016.
“Initial proposals of this increase had this tax revenue, even from competing hotels, go toward servicing the downtown hotel and conference center,” Giangrande said. “When that was rejected, a back up tax plan for 2 [percent] was passed. Now, most of this money will go toward tourism efforts which I believe were already well appropriated.”
He also said he does not support the plan to create a tax-increment financing, or TIF bond, in the city to help pay for the project. This program allows a local government to use the increase in property tax receipts from new development to pay for public improvements that promote economic development, according to a state website.
“TIFs should be used sparingly, if at all. Under a TIF, for an extended period, the city would forgo taxes generated by the improvements done to this parcel, citing that it was sitting vacant and providing little taxes to the town anyway,” he said. “This pre-supposes that this particular parcel has little marketable real estate value moving forward, which is not the case at all. The completion of the Carroll Creek project immediately adjacent has elevated that parcel to prime real estate. All this in a city with a downtown commercial and restaurant scene which is thriving.”
Senators serve four-year terms and earn $50,330 annually. Senate District 3 covers the city of Frederick, Adamstown, Buckeystown and Jefferson. Early voting for the election begins Thursday, and Election Day is Nov. 6.