It takes time to do big things. As Mayor Randy McClement observed Thursday, it has taken eight years to produce the latest vision of the proposed downtown hotel and conference center.
It’s been worth the wait.
The plan, sketches and model unveiled before a packed room at the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center show a project that is coming together beautifully. In its scale, in its design and even in the financing behind it all, the revised proposal shows that developers have taken account of community feedback — and criticism — in refining the project.
The new design for the hotel and conference center would be lower — four floors instead of five — and it would have fewer rooms — 180 instead of 240. The reduced mass and height of the building will preserve views of Frederick’s iconic steeples, answering a concern raised by the initial sketches. And we are especially pleased to learn that the hotel will provide public access to the rooftop, for all of us to enjoy the views.
The new design shows thoughtful consideration of the project’s setting, in the heart of Frederick’s historic downtown, along the city’s centerpiece Carroll Creek Linear Park. Parking will be underground and out of sight. Lining the creek will be the hotel lobby, a restaurant and meeting space, bringing hotel activity right to the creek. The new design is also sensitive to how the building meshes with the streetscape along Patrick and Carroll streets, reinvigorating the historic trolley building on Patrick and providing street-level access to new shops and restaurants along Carroll.
Critically, public officials and developer Pete Plamondon, of Plamondon Hospitality Partners, have clarified the role that public funding will play in bringing this project to Frederick. What opposition there has been to the project has largely centered on the use of public money. Officials emphasized that no public money will be spent building or operating the hotel or the conference center.
Public money is still required — about $30 million from state, county and city sources. It will be used for “land acquisition, grading and site preparation, utilities, on-site public parking and related off-site roadway improvements,” according to a city press release.
That’s entirely appropriate. Most of the money would be generated by the project itself, so it isn’t being pulled from other uses. That public money wouldn’t exist without the project. More importantly, this project has the potential to be transformational for downtown Frederick. It would add momentum to development all along the creek and provide a vital link between downtown and east Frederick. It would help large local businesses that need gathering spaces. And by attracting thousands of visitors downtown, the hotel and conference center will bring cultural vitality to the city — and revenue to shops and local restaurants.
In supporting jobs, tax revenue and an active, attractive downtown, this is exactly the kind of smart public-private partnership that builds great cities like Frederick. It benefits all of us, the very definition of a public investment.
There is still more to be done, of course. Among other steps, the developers will need to work with the Historic Preservation Commission to ensure their plans meet city guidelines. We trust the HPC will work productively on the project. And the developers will need approval to remove a small vacant building on the site known as the Birely Tannery.
The fate of the Birely Tannery has been another flashpoint in the public discussion about the hotel and conference center. Plamondon said removing the Birely Tannery was necessary, but that element of the city’s tanning history would be incorporated into the project. Some of that was on display at the unveiling; the architect pointed out creek-side trellises that reference drying racks used in tanning operations. That approach, we believe, offers a reasonable compromise to honoring the city’s industrial past while building for the future.
At the end of the presentation, McClement called to the front of the room some of the people who have worked to push this project forward. It was a long line of public officials and community members, too many to mention them all by name here. But it was maybe the best part of the whole event, because it showed just how many people have invested so much time and effort in making this happen. With that kind of broad support, and with the willingness to adapt to community input that was shown in the latest plans, we are confident Frederick will get the downtown hotel and conference center it deserves.