With the help of a quarter million dollars from the state, local officials have started to lay a financial foundation for a long-discussed downtown hotel and conference center.
Plans to situate lodging and meeting space near Carroll Creek have been in the works for some time, and now, the City of Frederick will have some funds for land acquisition, design and engineering. In the 2012 session of the Maryland General Assembly, lawmakers agreed to set aside $250,000 for the first stages of the building effort. Approval for the funding came as the city awaits the completion of a study examining whether the local market is hungry for such a facility, according to city officials.
Feedback from the group running the study has been positive, said Josh Russin, executive assistant to Frederick Mayor Randy McClement, but a full report won't likely be ready until May.
Major employers in the area are certainly eager to see the facility built, said Ric Adams, president of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, and he added that the state dollars are a big step forward.
"Hurray!" he said. "It gets us some seed money to start ahead."
Russin said the city must match funds with the state, and McClement has accounted for this in his proposed fiscal 2013 budget. Because of this, the hotel project now could have a combined total of $500,000 for its design phase, slated to begin in July and end two years later, according to documents supporting the request for state dollars. As a vociferous advocate for the project, Delegate Galen Clagett pushed to include the funding in the Maryland capital budget for fiscal 2013.--
Not everyone believes the money necessarily signals that the project is on a roll, however.
"I'm pleased that Galen was able to get the money. ... Hopefully they (city leaders) will find a good use for it. I hope it's not used in a way that hurts us in the future," Sen. Ron Young said.
Before the building site or developer has been chosen, spending the money wisely could present a challenge to city officials, he said.
The city hasn't yet decided how to divide the money, according to Earl Robbins, who chairs a team of project stakeholders. They also have yet to nail down key deadlines, such as the date for selecting the building location. However, they hope to solicit information soon about various downtown properties that could be the future site for a 200-room hotel with at least 14,000 square feet of meeting space, he said.
And having money on hand for engineering and design will prompt more forward motion, Clagett argued.
But not all of Clagett's efforts met with success this session.
He also sponsored legislation to raise the county's hotel tax rate from 3 to 5 percent and allocate some of the added revenue to the city for capital projects such as the hotel and conference center. However, the idea drew opposition from other members of the county delegation, such as Young, who said taxing local hotels to help support a competing facility was unfair.
Adams said he thinks a downtown facility that would draw large conferences would have a spillover effect that would benefit other establishments. Clagett agreed.
"We know one of the economic engines for tourism in the county is Frederick city," Clagett said, expressing frustration that some of his initiatives this session fizzled. "Sometimes I have to scratch my old bald head and say, 'What's the motivation here?'"
Clagett said he plans to reintroduce the hotel tax bill next session.