Paul Gordon: Frederick’s convention center needs -- Gazette.Net


A hotel or conference center in Frederick has been a recurrent topic since 1921.

Plans were announced that year for a hotel with conference rooms in downtown Frederick costing $900,000.

To be at Court and Patrick streets, it was to be “one of the largest and most modern hotels in Maryland outside of Baltimore,” according to a story in the Frederick newspaper.

It was to be expandable to 300 rooms. Merchants were losing “huge sums every day” because there was no modern hotel for tourists and the traveling public.

In 1923, the magnificent edifice, the Francis Scott Key Hotel, opened and served the public until 1969 when it was taken over in forfeiture proceedings.

As an example of its appeal, in 1965, more than 800 people danced at a Mardi Gras Ball, more than filling the Blue and Grey Room, the Wedgewood Room and the main ballroom. The hotel was the center of Frederick’s social and business meeting activities.

In 1987, the city solicited bids from 20 developers for a proposed hotel and conference center, which was to be the linchpin of the Carroll Creek linear park.

In 1989, the Frederick Conference Center Corp. was given exclusive rights to the project for three years. It already owned a site just east of South Market Street along the creek, as well as almost the entire one-half block to East All Saints Street that would be redeveloped as part of the project.

The group needed dates from the city, which could not be guaranteed. It needed to know when the proposed area would be floodproof, and an assured date for the completion of a new parking deck. Lacking a timetable, the project could not proceed.

So the city decided to seek additional advice before putting the project out to bid again. Transportation was stressed as the most important element by the new advisers. How would those attending meetings from long distances comfortably reach the hotel?

It was stressed that after a long trip by air, attendees did not want to take another long trip by bus or car. And Frederick’s municipal airport had no commercial air service. That meant flying into either Washington or Baltimore airports and then taking land transportation to Frederick. It would be a difficult thing to sell those planning the events.

A long trip by car also was considered a negative because the traffic around the metropolitan areas was a major problem, and it was obvious that Interstate 270 needed a third lane to accommodate an ever increasing number of cars. It appeared traffic improvements were many years distant.

There also was the problem of attractions outside the convention where attendees could spend their free time. The city needed more than its historical sites. Although the Weinberg Center served the citizens of Frederick well, a greater variety was needed.

Until these negatives were resolved, Frederick as a major convention center would not work, a consultant said.

Meanwhile, Fort Detrick has twice investigated building a hotel, conference center and golf course presuming it would attract attendees from events at Frederick Community College, as well as its own meetings. Both times, as the base commanders left, the plans were dropped without explanation.

Today, a study has been completed proposing a downtown full-service hotel designed for 200 rooms with meeting and banquet space.

A conference center was not considered appropriate because of the “exacting standards and stringent guidelines” required by the conference industry. Thus it is suggested the city focus on a hotel with meeting rooms.

Let us hope it will include the hospitality for which the Francis Scott Key Hotel was widely known.

Paul Gordon, a local historian, was mayor of Frederick from 1990 to 1994. Reach him at