O'Malley hotel decision likely next week

SunSpot Staff

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said today that he hopes to make a decison early next week on whether to accept a unanimous recommendation that a 750-room Hilton, proposed by a group headed by Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson, serve as the city's convention headquarters hotel.

"I'm going to digest the proposal this weekend," O'Malley said in a brief interview. "I've got to be able to explain it, and it has to make sense to me."

Last Friday, the board of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-governmental agency, unanimously recommended that a team headed by Johnson's RLJ Development LLC and including Quadrangle Development Corp. in Washington be awarded an exclusive negotiating agreement with O'Malley for the $200 million hotel.

The BDC's 10-0 decision was announced Friday after the board had met behind closed doors for 3 1/2 hours on Thursday. The announcement came nearly a year after the RLJ-Quadrangle proposal was announced with great fanfare by O'Malley at a City Hall news conference.

The hotel long has been seen as key to improving business at the Baltimore Convention Center.

"I was surprised that the board was unanimous," O'Malley said today. "The board can hide behind being a board, but I have to explain my decision. That's why I'm taking the weekend to study it. It has to make sense to me."

The proposal would construct the 75,000-square-foot Hilton near a new international headquarters for Catholic Relief Services Inc. on a city-owned site west of the convention center and north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The proposal bested offers from two other development teams, including one from Atlanta-based Portman Holdings LP and Treyball Development Inc., a real estate company based in Beverly Hills, Calif., run by actor Will Smith and his brother Harry.

The other proposal was submitted by Baltimore developer Otis Warren and Willard Hackerman, chief exeutive of Whiting Turner Contracting Co. This group -- also joined by Baltimore architect Peter Fillat and Garfield-Traub Development LLC, based in Dallas -- offered an additional plan to construct a convention headquarters hotel just west of the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel on Conway Street.

RLJ officials have said they anticipate completing the hotel by 2007 at the latest.

All the proposals would have required some public financing. M.J. "Jay" Brodie, the BDC's president, confirmed reports Friday that the hotel would be financed with tax-exempt bonds and owned by the city.

O'Malley said today that he favored that financing arrangement, initially put forth in the Warren-Hackerman proposal. "That would mean less cash out of the city's pocket, and we'll get to share [in the hotel's profits] on the upside."

The mayor added that he was attracted to another element of the Warren-Hackerman bid.

"I liked the look of the hotel," he said, referring to the structure that was proposed. "Both proposals were strong. I really tried to keep my mouth shut as to what I liked so that ... the board could do its job objectively."

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