ANNAPOLIS — Last-minute changes to the state’s capital budget restored funding for the proposed downtown Frederick hotel and conference center, but at lower levels than previously expected.
The House and Senate on Wednesday passed a capital budget that included amendments to two prior spending authorizations from 2016 and 2017 for the project. It will set aside a total of $5 million for land acquisition and work on the site.
Even with the funding in the budget, the Board of Public Works would have to add the grant to its agenda in order to actually allocate the money to the city of Frederick.
The amended bill does not include future funding that had been part of prior years’ budgets. In the last budget cycle, $7.5 million was allocated for the development in 2018 and 2019. An additional $3.5 million was slated to come in 2020.
Some delegates said that change created some confusion. Delegate Barrie Ciliberti (R-District 4) said he couldn’t speak to the funding because he had heard different information about it and was looking for further details as of Wednesday afternoon.
Delegate Karen Lewis Young (D-District 3A) was also asking questions about the budget, she said, because she understood the amounts from last year’s bill would be included, although she conceded that she may have misunderstood what she was told.
“I was surprised and disappointed,” she said.
Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, and other project partners have said the project was still possible with only the $5 million authorized from the state, but that the preferred design included an additional $11 million for what was deemed an “optional” level of public parking. Now that the $11 million is not included in any future capital budgets, that extra parking is up in the air, Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor said Wednesday.
While O’Connor said the city is still completely committed to the project, he is unsure of how, or if, the details of it — including the design, timelines and potential for other funding sources — will change without all of the proposed funds from the state.
“Until we have an opportunity to sit down and talk to our partners on the project, and that includes [developers] Plamondon [Hospitality Partners], it’s premature to assess what that means,” he said. “But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.”
O’Connor said he and other project proponents have made concerted efforts to communicate the need for the full $16 million in state funding for the project and he thought they were getting through.
Another change to the capital budget made it so that the Maryland Historical Trust will not review the grant as it would have previously.
Sen. Michael Hough (R-District 4), who supports the project but opposes state dollars going toward it, said that was a calculated move to cut the trust out of the process and bypass any opposition there.
Hough, the only senator to vote against the capital budget bill, also took issue with the amendments being added “in the dark of the night at the very last part of the process.”
O’Connor said that the amendment to no longer require approval from the Maryland Historical Trust will not affect the mitigation efforts underway at the historic project site.
“We are fully committed to doing mitigation,” he said. “We have to evaluate what the impact is.”
A memorandum of agreement between the city, the developers, the Department of Housing and Community Development and Maryland Historical Trust that will map out the methods and details of mitigating the historic elements of the site is awaiting a final vote from the Board of Aldermen. Officials have said the agreement is necessary because the project is set to receive state grant funds.
The planned multimillion-dollar, 180-room hotel and 20,000-square-foot conference center is slated for development at 200-212 E. Patrick St. in downtown Frederick. Plans also include renovation of the historic Frederick Railroad building, which most recently housed The Frederick News-Post’s headquarters, into a dual retail center and potential office and residential space.
Frederick County’s General Assembly delegation has been divided on setting aside state funds to further the development. Democrats say it will facilitate public infrastructure improvements needed to move the project forward. Supporters have described the state funding as an investment to revitalize the area. Meanwhile, Republicans see it as akin to subsidizing a private business.
“They’re being very creative in trying to get taxpayer funds to support the developer,” said Delegate Kathy Afzali (R-District 4).
Lewis Young said the funding package for Frederick was restructured to go only toward public infrastructure improvements — a public parking garage and landscaping.
Both Griffin and Pete Plamondon Jr., co-president of Plamondon Hospitality Partners, did not return calls for comment Wednesday.