Expansion would include a new Sheraton

A new high-rise Sheraton Hotel would be part of any expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center on the site of the existing Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, under a proposal that the nonprofit Greater Baltimore Committee is studying.

GBC president Donald C. Fry said in a radio interview Monday that a new Sheraton could rise on the north side of Conway Street between South Charles and Sharp streets. It would replace the existing Sheraton, which would be razed under the proposal to make way for an 18,500-seat arena and convention center expansion.

The GBC board voted last week to study plans to expand the convention center on the site of the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel and its garage and include an arena as part of the project. Fry made his remarks on the "Midday with Dan Rodricks" program on WYPR-FM. Fry said Sheraton owner Willard Hackerman is "very open to this idea."

Hackerman could not be reached Monday. People familiar with the proposal say a new Sheraton would contain about 500 guest rooms, up from about 300 at the current hotel, and 30,000 to 50,000 square feet of meeting space.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said last week that she wants to explore alternative locations for a new sports and entertainment arena. Previous plans had called for razing the 1st Mariner Arena and building a new arena on the current west-side site.

The idea of building a new Sheraton on Conway Street is one of several details that emerged Monday about the proposal from GBC, which is still in the conceptual stage. GBC officials say information about the project's cost, construction timetable and financing will become available after the proposal receives further study.

Other details of the proposed project:

•The expansion would bring to at least 600,000 square feet the total amount of space in Baltimore's Convention Center, which currently has about 300,000 square feet.

•With 18,500 seats, the arena portion of the project would be competitive with many other U.S. arenas, which typically have about 19,000 seats.

•The original, 1979 portion of Baltimore's Convention Center, containing 115,000 square feet of space, would be demolished to make way for the expansion.

•Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore is the architectural consultant working on the preliminary design for the expansion. The design work was commissioned by Hackerman and has been presented to GBC officials and others over the past several weeks.

•The convention center expansion would be four stories high and potentially "wrapped" with retail space to add life to the street. A new Sheraton would be taller than the existing hotel and most likely would be connected directly to the expanded convention center.

Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, the city's convention and tourism agency, said he believes the temporary loss of 115,000 square feet of meeting space would be worth it if it means the convention center could finally double in size.

Noonan said he is intrigued by the idea of combining a new arena with the convention center because it would set Baltimore apart from other cities. "Nobody would have that collection of stadiums and arenas downtown in their tourism district," he said. "If we build it, we'd be hard to compete with."


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