Downtown hotel rewards far outweigh risks

Frederick stands today at a literal and figurative crossroad.  Ours is a beautiful city, one that has slowly and carefully risen from a devastated flood zone to the gem that has emerged.  The business, retail, restaurant, and cultural offerings that increasingly draw visitors to our community are successful in great part because of the vision to expand upon the historical beauty of downtown. 

Many of us — who have planted the flowers, swept the streets, created walking tours, started all kinds of businesses in historic buildings and donated money to purchase the twinkling holiday lights and special events — are proud of our hard work to make Frederick shine.  We have also recognized for many years that economic development and an expansion of our business tax base is hamstrung by the lack of a key infrastructure enhancement.  We believe the Downtown Hotel and Conference Center is an opportunity for Downtown to evolve in a positive way, and continue the path that we have personally worked so hard to pave over the past two decades.

Why do we support this project?  It’s very simple.  A Downtown Hotel and Conference Center means jobs, tourism, and filling a huge void in our infrastructure – a void that challenges our ability to attract and retain businesses in Frederick.  Our opportunity to compete with other municipalities, counties, and states depends upon this project.  The proposed facility will attract business meetings and conferences and allow us to introduce our organizations to new faces. 

We believe this is a valuable long-term project, and if we want to capitalize on the conference market the local business data points to, public financing is the only way to achieve it.  We recommend using the expertise and the funding available through the Maryland Stadium Authority due to their track record and excellent reputation of completing successful projects. 

In addition to demand for this project from our business community, residents and tourists, the MSA’s experts have determined the Downtown Hotel and Conference Center, as proposed, is a good return on investment for the State. 

In their 30 years, the MSA has completed similar projects in partnership with local governments, universities and the private sector throughout the state, and they are more than their name implies.  MSA projects promote historic preservation, adaptive reuse, community redevelopment, cultural arts and civic pride and its mandate includes creating public-private partnerships for financing facilities like the Downtown Frederick Hotel and Conference Center.

Prudent communities tap into the MSA resource whenever possible.  Our request for public support is not a blank check, but for the State to authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority to finance this project, at the level they have pre-approved.

It is important to note the MSA investment is not a loan.  The funds are invested in the project based on the estimated State tax revenue which will be received directly from the project.  As is standard protocol, neither Frederick City/County nor the developer is responsible for paying back the MSA for this investment.

We have the good fortune of learning from several unsuccessful public-private partnerships from the past, which have experienced revenue shortfalls that have become the responsibility of the local government, and ultimately the taxpayers.  Unlike our project, those projects were unfortunately owned and/or operated by government agencies.  We have diligently worked for more than a year to structure an agreement (MOU) and develop a funding plan that will not leave taxpayers on the hook, as the risk falls on the private developer – one who has decades of knowledge in the hotel sector and a stellar reputation in our community.

We believe the rewards far outweigh the minimal risk to the taxpayer.  Similarly to the Carroll Creek Linear Park project, which was met with criticism but has since paid enormous dividends to the community, the Downtown Hotel and Conference Center will allow us to continue to build a successful and thriving community.

Elizabeth Cromwell, President and CEO of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, John Fieseler, executive director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County and Kara Norman, executive director of Downtown Frederick Partnership wrote this on behalf of the Downtown Hotel Advisory Committee. This letter to the editor originally appeared in the Sunday, February 28, 2016 edition of The Frederick News-Post.