The city of Frederick is faced with three less-than-ideal choices as it considers whether to extend for a fourth time an agreement with the developer of the long-planned and long-delayed hotel and conference center for downtown Frederick.
The most recent agreement between the city and Plamondon Hospitality Partners is due to expire June 30. The city and the developer are looking to extend their amended agreement for the project through Dec. 31, 2023.
Both sides believe that this extension will be long enough for the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic on the hotel and hospitality industry to become clearer. The pandemic decimated the travel industry, and forecasters vary on how long it will take to recover, and to what extent the rebound will take place.
So, the city basically has three choices. The first one is that it could scrap the hotel project all together, an outcome that would be a disaster for the city and its treasured historic district.
Numerous urban planners have stressed the importance of having a hotel and conference center for a successful downtown. In their book “Our Towns,” James and Deborah Fallows visited numerous mid-size cities around the country to see what was working and what was not.
They identified a downtown hotel as one of the three pillars of a successful city, with the others being a strong restaurant scene and a waterway that can draw tourists and local residents.
In Frederick, we have Carroll Creek with its beautiful linear park, and we have had a terrific restaurant industry, though the pandemic has battered that as well. But we need a hotel to complete the plan for continuing success. So, killing the project is a nonstarter.
The second choice would be to let the agreement expire and begin the search for a new developer. In this unsettled and unsettling business climate, finding a new partner would be an enormous challenge, and would set the project back months if not years.
In addition, any firm willing to start the process is likely going to look for even more government support because of the challenging environment.
Mayor Michael O’Connor said he believes that if the city lets the agreement lapse, the project could be jeopardized, and possibly irreparably. He is probably correct.
The third option isn’t ideal either, but giving Plamondon the extension and the financial support it is seeking looks like the best bet for getting the vital project back on track.
Richard Griffin, Frederick’s director of economic development, said the city has strongly backed the project as an economic anchor for downtown, generating business for the restaurants and shops that make the historic district thrive. But he told the mayor and aldermen last week that the pandemic has caused unavoidable delays.
Under the extension agreement, Plamondon Hospitality Partners will have to keep intact the development site, which runs between East Market Street and Carroll Creek along South Carroll Street. According to a report by city staff, the developer would also have to do a market analysis of the post-COVID market demand, obtain financing, complete the design and be ready to start construction.
The city would pay Plamondon Hospitality Partners $150,000 from the City Parking Enterprise Fund to cover part of the design changes and other costs.
Developer Pete Plamondon told the aldermen the project was always going to take a long time, and now it will take longer. According to News-Post reporter Ryan Marshall, Plamondon said leisure travel is picking up, but the market for meetings — which would be the bread and butter of the new hotel — will likely be the last to rebound.
A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for June 3. The Board of Aldermen should then approve the extension. No one is happy with another delay, but the alternatives are unthinkable or unworkable.