City-owned Hilton lost $2.9 million in 2013, audit says

The city-owned Hilton Baltimore convention center hotel lost $2.9 million last year — the best performance in the taxpayer-financed project's history.

City officials pointed to the hotel's performance as a sign of progress Wednesday, noting revenues there increased by nearly $9 million from 2012.

"We're making progress. We're doing better than we've done before," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake after the release of the hotel's annual audit. "To me, that's a good sign."

Last year, city officials said they had ruled out selling the money-losing project and hoped to turn a profit within a decade. A consultant's report called the hotel's finances "markedly improving."

The convention center hotel, on West Pratt Street overlooking Oriole Park at Camden Yards, opened in August 2008, two years after then-Mayor Martin O'Malley and the City Council authorized more than $300 million in tax-exempt bonds to finance its construction.

The hotel has lost more than $50 million, including $11.2 million in 2012. The hotel has needed to tap reserve funds and retain some of the occupancy tax it generates to make debt payments.

Del. Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. opposed the project when he was on the City Council. He said Wednesday that he believes the city should look again at selling the facility.

"It's still a loss," he said. "Even with an economy that seems to be improving. As I said from Day One, the city should not be in the hotel business. It was flawed from the beginning, and I still think it's a bad decision. The city should look at trying to cut its losses."

Baltimore Finance Director Harry E. Black attributed the better performance to "smarter" management and a better business climate for hotels.

"We're competing against the other hotels," he said. "They're competing against us."

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