Businessman to lead effort for downtown hotel, conference center
Mark Gaver is ready to bring missing link' to Frederick
Mark Gaver asked a simple question when Frederick Mayor Randy McClement tapped him to serve as the point man to lead one of the city's largest business endeavors: "Why me?"
But the answer was just as simple. According to McClement (R), Gaver is "business-savvy" and "connected" the type of person needed to shepherd in a $45 million, 126,000- to 141,000-square-foot hotel and conference center to downtown Frederick by 2014.
"We need someone in this position who understands what we are looking for," McClement said. "The main thing is the right attitude."
A team of Frederick County business leaders, whom Gaver will now lead, presented McClement and the Board of Aldermen last week with a feasibility study for a downtown hotel and conference center.
Gaver is a self-described businessman with an attitude that even the most ambitious of projects are possible. A self-made entrepreneur, Gaver has run two successful businesses for more than decade.
"As a businessman, if something needs to get done ... that decision lies with me," he said. "But we have to look out for the public as well and make sure it's fair and balanced for everyone."
He is the chief executive officer of GTI Federal, an information technology service provider to the U.S. government. He is also the founder and president of Gaver Holdings, a Frederick-based investment firm that owns commercial and residential real estate from Frederick to Florida, including King's Men's Wear in downtown Frederick.
Gaver said he plans to draw from his years as a businessman, his roots in Frederick, and his community involvement to serve as a "shepherd" of the project, he said.
Through his community involvement, which includes serving as the chairman of the Hood College Board of Trustees and has included posts on committees and boards of the Weinberg Center for the Arts, The Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, Frederick Community College and Frederick County Public Schools Gaver said that he has learned that the Frederick community, when invested, can make anything happen.
Since last summer, the economic development offices of Frederick city and county have partnered with the Downtown Frederick Partnership, Tourism Council and the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce's Major Employers Group to study the financial requirements, economic impact, and the resident and business community demand for such a facility in Frederick.
The success of the hotel and conference center project will rely heavily on a public and private partnerships and investments, Gaver said.
The team concluded that 45 percent of the funding would need to come from a bank-financed mortgage and 55 percent approximately $26 million would come from a combination of developer and public funding.
"As we've found with other large projects, you can [do] it now or wait until it gets more expensive," he said. "It's not going to get any cheaper to get done."
Gaver admitted that to present those numbers in the current economic times is a big feat, but holds that the benefits will outweigh the costs.
The team's feasibility study showed that hotel and conference center would have a major economic impact on city, bringing in about $30 million in direct annual income once it's up and running. During its construction, the project would also generate about $48 million in construction costs, labor and taxes, the study found.
The hotel would be a brand name (possibly Marriot, Hilton, Westin or Hyatt), and would have 200 rooms, 14,000 square feet of meeting space to include a ballroom, and breakout meeting spaces. It would also host a restaurant or lounge and 250 parking spaces.
The feasibility study identified six sites in the city that could accommodate the project, but the team stopped short of identifying the sites because it did not want to imply favoritism toward a particular site.
But the necessity and desire for a hotel and conference center to take its place among the downtown corridor is vital, Gaver and city officials said. The project would create an "18-hour downtown" environment, ripe with attractions, pedestrians and vibrancy, they said.
"We've known for quite a while, and probably anecdotally before then, that this was missing," said Richard Griffin, director of the city's Department of Economic Development. "These are the things that businesses and families look for in a community."
The city's elected officials embraced the idea of the project, citing it as one of the highlights in their dialogue on their recent campaign trails. McClement said it was one thing he campaigned for both as a candidate for office and as a local business owner.
"I've been interested in this for a long time," he said. "It's been needed for a long time."
Gaver said he believed that the facility is a "missing link" in the long-term vitality of downtown. The team will spend the next couple of months garnering the support of county and state officials, before proceeding with a search for investors and developers, he said.
"It's ambitious," Gaver said. "I've seen what this community can do in other business ventures, and I think this community can [do this]."
E-mail Erica L. Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.