Frederick asks state to pitch in $1M for hotel

Frederick Mayor Randy McClement is ready to take the next step to get a multimillion-dollar hotel/conference center built downtown.

Aldermen will consider Thursday whether to enter into a three-party memorandum with the Board of County Commissioners and the county’s state delegation to Annapolis.

McClement’s office asked the state earlier this month to include $1 million in the fiscal 2013 state budget for the project. That money would be used to help the city cover the cost of placing a right-to-purchase option on a property, as well as architectural, engineering and project management expenses, said Josh Russin, McClement’s executive assistant.

The estimated total cost of the public-private project is $45 million. The tentative completion date is December 2014.

The project is a joint initiative of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, the largest 17 employers represented in the chamber, the city, the county, the Tourism Council of Frederick County and Downtown Frederick Partnership, but none of the private-sector partners is included in the proposed memorandum.

The Board of Aldermen is scheduled to get its first briefing about the memorandum during the public hearing Thursday, and then possibly vote. Russin said the vote may be postponed until the aldermen’s questions are answered.

Alderwoman Karen Young asked this week whether the memorandum has enough teeth or the right participants to make it useful. She has questions about the financial obligation.

The memorandum is not a binding contract, but a statement of agreement, Russin said.

“What financial burden are we willing to absorb if $1 million doesn’t cover these costs?” Young asked McClement in an email. “To what extent do we want to be in the hotel building business?”

She wants answers to those and other questions: “Where are the private participants? Why aren’t the chamber, Downtown Partnership, Tourism Council and/or the Major Employers a partner in this?”

To Alderman Michael O’Connor, the memorandum indicates agreement among interested parties.

“I believe the MOU represents an effort to show the public sector is working together on this economic development priority,” he wrote in an email. “Success for the City of Frederick is success for Frederick County, and ultimately the state.”

The Maryland Stadium Authority, a state agency, recommended the memorandum, Russin said. The authority may help finance and operate the conference center.

“The eventual viability of a downtown hotel conference center will require the investment of real private sector dollars but not without appropriate city, county and state support, thus the state funding request,” O’Connor said.

The stadium authority has selected Crossroads Consulting Services to update a project feasibility study, which is scheduled to get started in January and be finished by spring, Russin said.

The study is being paid for out of a $20,000 technical assistance grant the city received from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, and $5,000 from the mayor’s office.

The city plans to issue a request for information for a conference center location in January, Russin said. Major employers who support the idea insist that only a downtown location will satisfy their needs, he said.

“I certainly support the hotel and conference center but … I have some issues with the timing, the signers and the content of the agreement,” Young said. “I think we have some process issues to resolve and understand before we endorse paper tigers.”

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