Original Published April 5, 2017
Frederick News-Post Editorial Board
The passage of the capital budget by state lawmakers last week was a win for the city of Frederick and Frederick County. The $1 billion budget, approved by both the Senate and the House of Delegates by wide margins, included funding for the long-sought downtown Frederick hotel and conference center, a project that was put on life support late last year after key state funding partners pulled out.
The General Assembly approved amendments that secure funding in three successive grants — a $5 million grant in 2018 and two pre-authorized grants in 2019 and 2020, the first for $7.5 million and the second for $3.5 million. All members of the Frederick delegation voted to approve the budget, even though delegation Republicans expressed misgivings about the appropriation for the downtown project. Both Sen. Michael Hough and Delegate Kathy Afzali continue to express their largely ideologically driven opposition to appropriating state funding for the hotel project (Afzali referred to funding for the project in the budget as a “monstrosity”).
We have batted down opponents’ arguments against the project repeatedly. We find those arguments tired, hypocritical and nonsensical. Mostly a melange of hooey about “picking economic winners and losers,” “corporate welfare,” yadda yadda yadda. Governments for a very long time have entered into these kind of public-private partnerships to encourage economic development — whether it was the state of Maryland’s role in building the C&O Canal two centuries ago, or more recently, public participation in building Ravens and Orioles stadiums in downtown Baltimore. These kinds of investments can revive regions and cities dramatically.
The presence of a hotel and conference center in downtown Frederick, accessible by foot and emptying out onto the popular Carroll Creek veranda would be a boon to the city, to the county and to Maryland, drawing visitors, conferences and tourists from across the country and around the world. It would provide a significant bump to the downtown business district, boosting business and tax revenue and helping to attract even more capital to encourage the redevelopment of stubbornly underutilized parcels in the historic district.
The bulk of the $82.5 project — to be built at 200 and 212 E. Patrick St., at the site of the old Frederick News-Post building right on Carroll Creek — will be funded through private money by the developer, Plamondon Hospitality Partners, which would invest about $53 million to build the hotel and associated retail space. The public portion, totaling about $31 million, would be a hodgepodge of state, county and local funding, collected through the state grants, tax-increment financing, city payments and parking funds, and would pay for public infrastructure, the conference center, stormwater management improvements as well as a parking garage and other site upgrades. These features are all necessary parts of the project and fully consistent with appropriations for public projects throughout Maryland as we’ve argued before.
Will this project benefit members of the Randall family, some of whom own the parent company of this newspaper, and some of whom separately own the old News-Post building downtown that will be part of this project? Yes, it will, as we have acknowledged repeatedly. But that’s no reason not to do it. The Randalls one day will sell that parcel; if it’s not part of this project, it will be part of another. Will people oppose every project on that site just because the Randalls own it? That’s silly. That’s like allowing a group of people to oppose you selling your house to whom you want, or your farm to whom you want. That’s generally not how we do things in the American system of capitalism.
All the same, the appropriation is subject to a line-item veto by Gov. Larry Hogan, also a Republican. Hogan has not signaled which way he will go on the appropriation except to note that he will consider each line item carefully. Hogan is expected to either sign the budget or veto it by Wednesday. Nevertheless, our thanks to all the members of the county delegation, namely Sen. Ron Young and delegates Karen Lewis Young and Carol Krimm, who represent the city of Frederick and who recognized the importance of this project to both the city and the county. This is a project that promises to help transform downtown Frederick.