Citizen concern about taxpayer funds benefiting private developers paid off last week when the majority of the Frederick County state legislative delegation voted against Stadium Authority bond funding for a proposed hotel and conference center in downtown Frederick. This is a welcome development, and we hope that it leads to a fundamental rethinking of the entire project.
There are many reasons to be concerned about the way this project has evolved, most notably a troubling lack of transparency in the financing process. But at the root of it all is something more fundamental: our collective inability to imagine Frederick city and as the jewel that is, and could be.
Frederick County has assets that just about any jurisdiction would die for. Hundreds of thousands of acres of open space, woodlands, farmland, mountains and streams. A vibrant, well-preserved and diverse city, with a place in history that is unmatched just about anywhere in the U.S. Sparkling towns and hamlets sprinkled across the landscape, each with its own unique place and charm. Good schools, a solid tax base, low crime.
And yet we seem intent on beating a path toward mediocrity.
The downtown hotel project is the perfect example of this problem, both in the lack of vision for the project and the persistent whiff of political deal-making surrounding it.
We can do better, and we hope that last week’s vote marks a turning point where citizens and elected officials will now work together to set standards of excellence in transparency, integrity, design and vision that serve as a benchmark for future development.
To help us get there, Friends of Frederick County proposes the three simple criteria to measure our success toward that goal as we work together to bring a downtown hotel to Frederick. At a minimum, any hotel project must:
• Not use any taxpayer funds to support private investment, and financing that does involve public assets or resources must be undertaken with full transparency.
• Enhance, not just match, the historic character of downtown Frederick. This means involving Historic Preservation Commission expertise from inception, not as simply another bureaucratic hurdle to be cleared at the end of the project, while using and preserving existing structures in new and imaginative ways.
• Consider the impact on other downtown businesses, restaurants and facilities through an open, transparent, public process.
In the end, we need to imagine the hotel project as one that defines greatness, not just the next thing we are doing. We need to ask ourselves, is this project the absolute best we can do, does it captivate and inspire, does it build on and add to the unique assets and character that downtown Frederick delivers? Is it the cornerstone of a new vision of Frederick as a place that others look to emulate?
When the answer to those questions is yes, we’ll know we’ve hit on the right hotel.
We will see you there.