Five national builders to bid on city hotel plan

Sun Staff

Five national builders will compete to construct Baltimore's proposed $290 million, publicly financed convention headquarters hotel after estimates from Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., the builder previously expected to build the hotel, soared beyond projections, city development officials said yesterday.

The city had been working with Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner to build a city-owned, 750-room Hilton as part of a team led by Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television. But construction estimates from Whiting-Turner came in over budget, the Baltimore Development Corp. said early this month.

BDC issued a new request for proposals from builders March 11 but has kept the rest of the development team intact, including Johnson's company, RJL Development LLC, and Quadrangle Development Corp., architecture firm RTKL Associates and hotel operator Hilton Hotels Corp.

Yesterday, BDC said it has pre-qualified five design-build companies, including Whiting-Turner, to bid on the hotel, which is to be built on vacant land just north of . The deadline for bids is May 9.

It was unclear what Whiting-Turner would need to change to stay within the budget guidelines.

"Whiting-Turner knows it's a competitive RFP process, as any of the bidders know that other firms are also interested," said Irene E. Van Sant, a project analysis director for the BDC. "They're aware they're in a competitive RFP process. What they choose to change is up to them."

Whiting-Turner officials declined to comment yesterday.

Builders that qualified include Bethesda-based Bovis Lend Lease, which has built hotels, resorts and mixed-use projects; and FaulknerUSA, an Austin, Texas, national developer and builder specializing in convention headquarters hotels.

Also included were Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Greeley, Colo., which builds convention center hotels and is renovating the Pentagon and the operations building at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn; and Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Hunt Construction Group. Hunt built the Orange County Convention Center expansion in Orlando and is building Cardinals Stadium in Arizona and a five-star Conrad Hotel and Residential Tower in Indianapolis .

"All of these builders do urban high-rise buildings, hospitality buildings and are design-builders," Van Sant said.

Steve Speer, a vice president at Hensel Phelps' district office in Chantilly, Va., said the contractor was attracted to Baltimore's project because it is building a similar hotel in downtown Denver, a 1,100-room Hyatt.

"We're well-versed in what it takes to do this," Speer said.

As a design-builder that would step into the Baltimore project with the early schematic design already approved, "It's our job to find the most cost-effective solution to that box," Speer said.

Terri Dusek, a spokeswoman for FaulknerUSA, said the proposed hotel is a fit with the scope and size of many of the company's previous projects.

BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie had said that four separate construction estimates from Whiting-Turner, which has been involved in the project since fall 2003, came in over budget. The city is allowing an estimated $195 million for construction, including hotel furnishings and fees paid to development team members. Brodie would not say how much over projections Whiting-Turner's estimates were. Van Sant yesterday declined to comment on those estimates.

She said the city plans to seek City Council approval by early May for a $290 million revenue bond issue to finance the construction and other costs.

The plan to publicly finance the hotel has raised concerns among some city officials, including the chairman of a key City Council committee. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., head of the taxation and finance committee, said he wants an independent commission to review the three hotel proposals that had been submitted to BDC, including plans that would not have required full public financing.

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