Paterakis' political contributions - he and his companies gave about $10,000 to Schmoke from 1994 to 1996 - have also provided ammunition for critics of the Inner Harbor East project. They claim that Paterakis won favors in receiving more than $20 million in public subsidies and tax breaks for the project.
The history of the project stretches back to the early 1980s, when developer and former Mandel aide Michael Silver bought up what were then mostly weedy lots and railroad tracks to build what Silver hoped would be a suburban-style shopping mall.
'Sucker' for the city
When Silver ran into financial trouble, Schaefer persuaded Paterakis to buy the land for $14 million in 1985 and - despite Paterakis' lack of experience in building - to develop the site as the important next step in the Inner Harbor's revitalization.
"The city found a sucker who was willing to do all this," said Paterakis.
The project has been embroiled in turmoil for more than a decade, with three lawsuits from citizen groups unsuccessfully challenging the complex's tax breaks, height and size. The management firm that would run the hotel changed twice. And its proposed height has wavered from 48 to 32 to 44 to 31 stories, as architects tried to cope with complaints that it was too tall.
"Nerve-racking? It was a lot more than that," said Paterakis. "We didn't know what was going on. First it was the Hilton, then the Wyndham, then the Marriott. And then the lawyers got involved. Boy, that was a picnic."
Paterakis said discussions about building a casino on the site ended in August 1996, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening threatened to veto legislation that would legalize slot machines. This broke what Paterakis considered a deal between Glendening and Schmoke to allow gambling. "That threw a twist in the planning, because everybody said this would be an ideal spot for slots and gaming," said Paterakis. "Unfortunately, that didn't work out."
Skeptics have questioned whether Paterakis can attract all-important convention business because his hotel is located almost a mile east of the Baltimore Convention Center. And some have questioned Paterakis for using public subsidies to build a complex taller and more dense than was allowed in a city land-use plan that called for a modest-scale neighborhood. The plan was later modified to accommodate Paterakis' project.
"It's just outrageous greed," City Councilman John L. Cain said. "Little Italy is going to be dwarfed by it. Fells Point is going to be dwarfed by it. The traffic is going to be horrendous. It might just kill the area."
'Very positive influence'
Many local homeowners say they're watching the construction with hope and look forward to shopping in the Fresh Fields supermarket and watching their property values go up. Business owners expect that the 5,000 to 6,000 office workers and 600 residents of Inner Harbor East will stroll through the area and bring more money to local stores and restaurants.
"This will have a very positive influence on not just Fells Point but also Canton and beyond to other areas of the city," said Dominik Eckenstein, head of the Fells Point Business Association.
Beatty, Paterakis' vice president for development, said he hopes the offices and shops will help draw major corporations and keep Baltimore shoppers from fleeing to suburban malls. "It used to look dead down here, just vacant lots," said Beatty. "Nobody wanted to walk through. Now there's a highly visual connection between downtown and Fells Point."
One of the project's magnets will be an 18-screen Crown Imperial Theater that will specialize in art and foreign films, Beatty said.
Other centerpieces will be a public waterfront plaza with a beautiful view of the harbor, and the largest outdoor sculpture in the city, a 44-foot-tall work of art called the Katyn Memorial, which will resemble a flame and honor Polish army officers massacred by the Soviet Union in World War II.
The developers are planning to build almost 3 million square feet of office and retail space by 2004. But Paterakis doesn't want to stop there.
In the works
He has also entered a partnership with another well-known local development firm, Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse, to build a cluster of buildings along the Fells Point waterfront, on Thames Street between South Caroline and Broadway. This 4.7-acre project might include 150 apartments, an office building, parking garage, hotel, café and shops, said Janet Marie Smith, vice president for planning and development of Struever Bros.
The two companies are also teaming up to negotiate with the owners of a 27-acre peninsula just west of the Thames Street site to explore the possibility of building a mixed-use project even larger than Inner Harbor East.
The huge, vacant plot of land - once a toxic waste site left by the former Allied chrome plant - might become "Harbor Point," a complex of high-tech offices, apartments and a large public space on the water that could feature a performing arts center, Smith said.
"We're on a roll," Paterakis said.