Sour grapes will never be served at the downtown Frederick hotel conference center.
One of the benefits of growing up in a large family – in my case the eldest child of five boys and one girl – is that you should learn that LIFE IS NOT FAIR. With two of my brothers being 12 and 15 years my junior, my more senior brothers and I used to really feel the rub as we observed how the younger boys seemed to skate through adolescence, while our parents seemingly looked the other way. Complaints were regularly lodged, but to no avail, we never seemed to win … Then there was the “special” situation with my sister, who from us boys’ perspective, seemed to have been granted full immunity many times from all house rules! Whether that was really the case was a matter of opinion at the time … looking back now, I have a much different perspective.
Of course when I was given opportunities that the others weren’t, it made no sense to me that my siblings would yelling “that’s NOT fair!”
It’s a hard lesson to learn that “FAIR” does NOT necessarily mean “EQUAL,” and “EQUAL” is NOT often “FAIR.” To be equal is objective, and fairness is subjective. Millions of people never learn the distinction between these two perspectives and often unwittingly struggle with the feeling of being victimized throughout their lives. Throw in a large dose of competitiveness into one’s DNA and things can often get ugly!
Take the case of the proposed increase in Frederick County’s hotel tax, which was brought to the County Council by County Executive Jan Gardner last week for discussion, public comment and eventual vote. Over the course of the last eighteen months or so the idea of increasing the countywide 3% tax to 5% has been an intense fireball that has been tossed around from City Hall to Annapolis and back to Winchester Hall with claims of unfairness, political corruption, corporate welfare and whatever other nastiness one can think of.
Now, being the conservative that I am, I know that in my nearly 50 years of adulthood (I’d like to think I reached that point at the age of 18, but I know that my siblings and many others would not agree), I have never supported a tax increase of any kind. But last week at the August 15th meeting of the Frederick County Council I gave public comment in support of increasing the county’s hotel tax by 2%.
No, I did not have a gun to my head, and no, I have not been blackmailed, nor do I have a financial interest the proposed Downtown Frederick Hotel Conference Center (aka DFHCC) which is being shepherded by the Plamondon Companies headquartered here in Frederick County … But on my own free-will I stood before the Frederick County Council to echo the sentiments of the vast majority of the speakers who touted the many positives that revenues of such a tax will be used to enhance the marketing budget of the Frederick County Tourism Council to spread the word of the wonders of our county from Emmitsburg to Brunswick and everywhere in between the borders of the county with the largest land mass in Maryland.
From the standpoint of calling this a tax, it really is used to enhance the ability of the extremely well run Tourism Council to market the county … and the good news is that in a vast majority of the cases, those who pay this tax are not Frederick County residents, but visitors who come to spend money which generates more tax revenue to fill the coffers of municipal, county and state governments.
The additional benefits of this enhanced revenue stream have been outlined very well by the Chamber of Commerce and the Frederick County Office of Economic Development. Consider that the average hotel tax rate among all Maryland counties is 6% with the top figure as high as 12% in Prince Georges and the lowest being Frederick County at 3%. All counties have a hotel tax.
Additionally aside from enhancing the Tourism marketing budget, about 37.5% of the revenues or about $750,000 per year will be equally distributed to the county’s Tourism Reinvestment and Product Program (TRIPP), fund Main Street programs with the county and promote ag-tourism initiatives.
The Tourism Council already uses most of the funding from the current 3% hotel tax to promote county tourism, but this additional 2% levied against all the hotels within this vast jurisdiction will only be used to intrigue more tourism dollars to be spent locally.
There is one exception, however: much of the new tax assessed against the Plamondon downtown public/private partnership with the City of Frederick will be used to fund some of the debt that will be taken on by the downtown hotel developer. I could go on and on about why I think this is FAIR, but I’ll save that for another time.
But this is where claims of UNFAIRness and foul play have been charged by a limited few, some of whom stepped up to the lectern at the public hearing that night to vehemently protest and spoke out against the proposed increase.
One party in particular, who has expressed displeasure over the tax increase, is the fairly new owner of the Holiday Inn (aka Holidome next to the FSK Mall) located at the northeast corner of the intersection of Interstate 270 and Maryland Route 85/Buckeystown Pike. The owner Randy Cohen is an experienced, very successful businessman and developer in his own right. He is an owner of multiple hotels (at least one of which is located in Frederick County). He clearly knows the hotel business. Ever since the Plamondon Companies were selected by the City of Frederick to be the developer of the DHCC, Mr. Cohen and his hired gun, the well-known Maryland lobbyist Bruce Bereano, have roamed the halls of the State House in Annapolis speaking out against the proposed increase in the county’s hotel tax.
They won the favor of the Republican members of Frederick County’s Delegation, but through some slick political maneuvering, the idea of stripping the Frederick County Council of its right to levy such a tax was sent back to the County Executive Gardner and the Council to determine the fate of the proposal.
The odd “Go Figure” issue that looms large with the noise that Cohen and Bereano have been making about this issue, is that in fact Cohen was seriously enamored with the idea of developing the DFHCC himself on a site he owns near the downtown area of Frederick. But for whatever reason he gave up on that effort and not too soon thereafter pursued the purchase of the Holidome. He admitted such publicly in Annapolis which was picked up by the Frederick News Post.
Now imagine, if you will, that Cohen had continued his pursuit of the DFHCC and was successful in being named as the developer for the project by the City. It’s worth a moment of wonderment as to what position he and his lobbyist would be taking at all those public hearings … Would the cry of UNFAIRness still be shouted from the same sources?
Rocky Mackintosh, the Founder and President of MacRo, Ltd., is a leading commercial real estate expert in the region. He has been an active member of the Frederick, Maryland community for over four decades. He has served as chairman of the board of Frederick Memorial Hospital and as a member of the Frederick County Charter Board from 2010 to 2012.