More taxpayer money for a downtown hotel | Letters to the Editor
You claim (OUR OPINION: best available choice for hotel extension, May 13) that it would be a “disaster for the city” if Frederick withheld a payment of $ 150,000 requested by Mr. Plamondon to maintain his downtown hotel city alive and refused to renew – for the fourth time – its exclusive rights to negotiate a deal for millions more in city money for its project.
If there is disaster in the offing, it means pumping more taxpayer money into this mess that taxpayers have already spent about $ 1 million on. It has been almost seven years since the city chose Mr. Plamondon as the hotel’s “partner”. Time and time again, he and the city failed to come to an agreement to make the deal according to their promises.
Arguably, they’re further – not closer – to a deal now than they were in 2014. They’ve waived update costs, their market research is now eight and nine years old, historic preservation approvals have expired, a site plan has been rejected, etc. They chose a poor site – difficult to access, small frontage on the street, too small with a maximum height of four floors for more than 200 rooms, 600 meeting room spaces and parking. More fundamentally, historic downtown Frederick is a day trip destination for visitors based in the greater DC / Maryland / Northern Virginia metropolitan area.
The pandemic has resulted in a devastating disruption in travel, hospitality and conferences. City staff said the proposed fourth extension of Mr Plamondon’s municipal franchise through the end of 2023 will give businesses time to recover so “the project can be funded.” But who knows if business travel and conference center activities will ever recover? Eighteen months of COVID lockdowns have seen most meetings and events go virtual with Zoom-type apps. Now that COVID has passed, many face-to-face meetings will return, but many will not. The industry assumes the new “norm” could be 10 to 20 percent smaller than before the pandemic. A new conference center will have to compete in a fierce market with well established and underutilized facilities.
Most of us wish to see more accommodation downtown, but it will work best in the historic district if it spontaneously arises with private capital. It’s likely to be on a smaller scale, like the conversion of the Visitation Academy on East 2nd Street, but it can be accomplished without all the cronyism, complexities, delays, and taxpayer expense associated with sponsoring the city of one monster resort.