You claim (OUR VIEW: Hotel extension best available choice, May 13) that it would be a “disaster for the city” if Frederick withheld a proposed $150,000 payment requested by Mr. Plamondon to keep his downtown hotel alive and declined to renew — for the fourth time — his exclusive rights to negotiate a deal for millions of dollars more in city money for his project.
If there’s any disaster in prospect it lies in pouring more taxpayer money into this boondoggle on which taxpayers have already spent around $1 million. It is nearly seven years since the city chose Mr. Plamondon as its “partner” for the hotel. Time and again he and the city have failed to get their act together to complete the deal according to their promises.
Arguably they are further — not closer — to a deal now than they were in 2014. They’ve given up updating costs, their market studies are now eight and nine years old, historic preservation approvals have expired, a site plan was rejected, etc. They chose a lousy site — difficult to access, little street frontage, too small with a four-story height limit for 200+ rooms, 600 meeting room spots and parking. More fundamentally Frederick’s historic downtown is a day trip destination for visitors based in the greater D.C./Maryland/Northern Virginia metro area.
The pandemic saw a devastating shutdown of travel, hotel business and conferences. City staff say the proposed fourth extension of Mr Plamondon’s city franchise to the end of 2023 will allow time for business to recover so that “the project can be financed.” But who knows if business travel and the conference center business will ever fully recover? Eighteen months of COVID lockdowns have seen most meetings and events go virtual with Zoom-like apps. Now that COVID is passing, many in-person meetings will come back, but many will not. Industry guesses are that the new “normal” could be 10 to 20 percent smaller than pre-pandemic. A new conference center will have to compete in a cut-throat market with established and underused facilities.
Most of us want to see more lodging downtown but it will work best in the historic district if it arises spontaneously with private capital. It is likely to be on a smaller scale like the Visitation Academy conversion on East 2nd Street but it can be accomplished without all the cronyism, the complexities, the delays and the taxpayer spending attendant on city sponsorship of a single monster hotel complex.