Hotel proposals still under review

SunSpot Staff

Sixty days have passed since city officials received three bids to build a major hotel adjacent to the Baltimore Convention Center, and a member of the review committee said today that the panel was seeking to support a development that will benefit the city for many years to come.

"The panel is working hard such that, when we do have a proposal that is the best for Baltimore going forward, we will make our recommendaiton to the mayor," said Clarence T. Bishop, chief of staff to Mayor Martin O'Malley, who represents him on the review committee. "Everyone is discussing and debating the issues to come up with the right decision."

The panel -- which includes members of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic-development arm -- are reviewing proposals for a hotel on a city-owned parcel between Camden Yards and the convention center.

BDC solitcited proposals after it was approached last year by a development team that included Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television.

That team, which also included the Washington-based Quadrangle Development Corp., proposed building a 750-room Hilton hotel on the site.

The deadline for competing bids was Feb. 10. The deadline had been extended by two weeks at the request of developers who wanted to apply. BDC received two other proposals. Developers presented their plans to the review committee last month.

"There were a number of pros and cons to each proposal," Bishop said, declining to provide specifics. "There are so many of them that the review panel has gone back to each [developer] with questions."

The committee will meet later this month to discuss the responses to the questions, said Bishop, who also is board chairman of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. He declined to specify when a final decision might be made.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, BDC's president, has declined to discuss the proposals, as well as how the city would pay for its portion of the proposed project. Each plan was submitted by development teams that include significant minority participation, which the city has made clear it preferred. None of the proposals provided development costs.

"The more time that's taken reflects that the process was not pre-determined," Bishop said. "Some people would take this as a sign that this is not a done deal, that this is not a lock."

The proposals include:

  • A 755-room Westin hotel with 600 parking spaces and 54,457 square feet of meeting and ballroom space. The proposal was submitted by Garfield Traub Development LLC, a Dallas-based real estate developer that has built convention hotels, and Baltimore-based development firm Otis Warren & Co. The group also proposed developoing the hotel along with a new 19,000-seat arena, offices and the headquarters for Catholic Relief Services, which has asked the city to use the parcel for its new offices. The proposal would be paid for with tax-exempt bonds that require public ownership of the hotel.
  • An 869-room hotel with 592 parking spaces, 55,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, a 36,000-square-foot soundstage and recording studio -- as well as a wellness clinic and spa. The plan was presented by Atlanta-based Portman Holdings LP, one of the nation's largest developers of convention hotels. The team also includes Treyball Development Inc., a company based in Beverly Hills, Calif., that is owned by the actor Will Smith and his brother, Harry. No brand name was included in the proposal. The project would be paid for with private financing, tax-increment financing -- which dedicates future tax receipts to the development -- or through sale of tax-exempt bonds, depending on the city's preference.
  • The Hilton proposal by Johnson's firm, the Bethesda-based RLJ Development LLC, and Quadrangle. The developers also would build the 200,000-square-foot headquarters for Catholic Relief Services on the grounds. No financing method was identified. The RLJ proposal also included 1,000 parking spaces and 75,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space. A second phase would add 400 hotel rooms and a 200,000-square-foot hotel-office-residential building. City officials helped RLJ craft its proposal and announced the plans for a Hilton in November at City Hall. But city officials insisted that the selection of a development team would be a fair process. "They brought the idea to us," Bishop said today. "We said, 'Great. Now, let's follow the process to see if anyone else has any better ideas.' " Ray Garfield, principal of Garfield Traub, said his firm was not worried that the city had not yet selected a developer. "This is not unusual for us," he said. "When a development of this magnitude arises, all the thoughtful input the city wants to give it is understandable." Garfield Traub was one of the firms that sought an extension to the deadline, he said. "We heard about it around the 10th of January," Garfield said. "One of the other teams [RLJ-Quadrangle] was very early, but we were assured that we would be considered. "Our team burned the midnight oil and worked over the weekend to respond in a meaningful manner." He said Garfield Traub is responding to the review panel's questions about its bid. Representatives of RLJ and Portman did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.
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