In a move that would radically alter downtown Baltimore's skyline, the owners of the former Baltimore News American site want to build an 800-room luxury Westin Hotel that would tower 44 stories over Pratt Street directly across from Harborplace.
The hotel, expected to cost about $160 million, would become the city's biggest and the first major one built here since what would become its neighbor, the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, which opened in 1988.
New York-based Schulweis Realty Inc., which has held a controlling interest in the Pratt Street site since 1989, and Westin Hotels & Resorts confirmed details of the proposal yesterday. It goes to the Baltimore Development Corp. (BDC), the city's economic development agency, Friday, the deadline for downtown hotel proposals that the agency will review.
Leaders of the development company and the Seattle-based chain called the site ideal because of its proximity to the Inner Harbor, other downtown attractions and the expanded Convention Center. And with more than a half-billion dollars' worth of new downtown attractions planned, top officials at Westin and Schulweis predicted the hotel would thrive as a destination for business and leisure travelers.
"We look at Baltimore as a key gateway city that offers what few other cities offer," said Harvey Schulweis, president of Schulweis Realty Inc. "Baltimore absolutely is a major-league city, and Westin is one of the premier hotel operators in the world."
The hotel's design features a vertical look, heavy on glass, affording waterfront views from almost every room. It would include an indoor pool overlooking the harbor, a health club with saunas and whirlpools, two ballrooms, 14 meeting rooms, two restaurants and a 200-space underground parking garage.
Construction on the site of what has been a parking lot for more than a decade could begin next year and be completed by 1999, Schulweis said.
But as is typical of major hotels built in America, it would require substantial public support -- tax breaks, grants or other subsidies.
BDC is to review the Westin proposal and others, then recommend public assistance to the one that shows the most promise.
At least two other proposals are expected.
The Baltimore-based Cordish Co. wants to build an 800-room hotel on a state-owned site across from the Power Plant. And developer John Paterakis reportedly would like to build a Hilton Hotel with at least 700 rooms at Inner Harbor East. Developers and real estate industry experts say downtown could sustain only one new hotel of that size.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Dean Kenderdine, the state's assistant economic development secretary for tourism, said requests for public assistance would be weighed based on BDC's analysis of the potential economic impact of each.
Thus far, the group that will be proposing the Westin, the 300 East Pratt Street Ltd. Partnership, has publicly provided the most detail about financial backing and potential economic impact.
The partnership includes Schulweis Realty; the Westin chain; William Hackerman, chairman of Whiting-Turner Contracting, the contractor and construction manager; Harold Adams, chairman and chief executive of RTKL Associates Inc., the architect; and ING Group, a Netherlands-based financial services company with $250 billion in assets and a $9 billion real estate portfolio.
Schulweis said ING's financial backers have committed to bankrolling the project and said that the location surpasses others in its potential to attract guests seven days a week.
"The location of this hotel is without peer," he said.
"It is at the epicenter of Baltimore's convention and tourist
activity, and will reinforce and reinvigorate retail and restaurant life along this corridor," he added.
During construction, the project would employ more than 3,400, Schulweis said. Upon completion, he said, the hotel would employ about 700, generate more than $40 million a year in economic impact, $8.5 million in annual state and city taxes.
The Westin proposal comes after a long dance of mutual admiration between the chain's executives and city leaders: For more than 20 years, the chain has considered Baltimore, and city officials have sought to woo the chain.
Now, with the commercial real estate industry showing ample evidence of recovery from the recession of the late 1980s and numerous tourism projects planned, the timing is right, in the view of the developer and the chain.
Frederick Kleisner, Westin's president and chief operating officer, ticked off some of the reasons for such optimism: Harborplace, the National Aquarium, the $151 million Convention Center expansion, a new $200 million football stadium, a Disney-designed children's museum.
"This makes for an out-of-the-park home run for us," Kleisner said, touting the city as an "East Coast flagship" for the chain, which operates 43 U.S. hotels and 50 abroad.
Pub Date: 12/07/96