City of Frederick Downtown Hotel and Conference Center Demand Analysis
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The City of Frederick is pursuing the development of a downtown hotel and conference center (DHCC). The City has tapped as its project lead the Plamondon Companies, a local developer with a wealth of relevant experience in the hospitality industry. Plamondon has proposed a 207-room hotel bearing the Marriott brand and an attached conference center of about 23,500 square feet. The City and its Department of Economic Development are pursuing necessary approvals to build on the proposed site but it also must convince key stakeholders of the project’s viability. Development of the conference center portion of the DHCC will require significant public subsidy from the City, Frederick County, and the State of Maryland. The local business community, particularly existing hoteliers, will be greatly affected by the DHCC. What types of meetings and events will the DHCC host? And will the conference center attract visitors who fill not only the Marriott’s beds, bars, and dining tables, but induce spillover business for the other restaurants, hotels, and local attractions already established in and around Frederick? The DHCC faces competition locally and across the State from facilities similar to that proposed by Plamondon. But Frederick, the project’s developer, and its eventual operator, can leverage the City’s existing strengths and position the DHCC to be an economic engine for the City. First, the City and DHCC should forge connections with key nonprofits and regional organizations as well as meeting planners, who are the gatekeepers to much of the conference center industry and are invaluable advocates for locations such as Frederick. Building these relationships and dutifully maintaining them will keep Frederick in the rotation as groups like the Maryland Economic Development Association and Maryland Municipal League schedule regular meetings across the State. Second, the pitch to these groups must be about Frederick—not ballrooms or hotel suites. The lively downtown, historical sites, nearby natural beauty and other attractions can differentiate Frederick from other cities with similar conference facilities. And third, the City and DHCC should make a play for government business in the long-term. Tighter budgets in Washington and meeting and events restrictions following a string of conference scandals across a number of agencies have slowed the federal meeting business to a trickle. But Fort Detrick cannot be ignored. Its unique and essential leadership in biotechnology could bring the DHCC some business in the short-term. It is, however, much more likely to yield greater dividends in the long-term as spending once again opens up. Positioning the DHCC to capture the eventual increase in demand from the Fort and other local agencies will help ensure the long-term viability of the facility. Pursuit of the strategies outlined above will put the DHCC on solid footing to attract meeting and event business from its four core market segments. Special events, such as weddings, are a natural source of business for the Center and will likely fill much of its calendar. Local businesses led by the largest employers in the County are a key driving force behind the project and will use the DHCC and Marriott regularly for a number of purposes. The DHCC and City as a whole will have the opportunity to attract significant conference and meeting business from regional and statewide nonprofits and organizations. And while demand will be slack in the short-term, government business could be a boon for the DHCC as the federal dollars start to flow once again.