In the strongest evidence yet that persistent doubts about Baltimore as a destination have been replaced by renewed confidence, three major developers yesterday proposed downtown megahotels that would add at least 800 rooms each.
The proposals -- an 800-room Westin on the site of the former News American; an unidentified 800-room hotel a few blocks east on Pratt Street; and a 750-room Hilton at Inner Harbor East and an adjacent 150-suites hotel -- came in at yesterday's deadline in response to a request from the city's economic development agency.
But perhaps the most critical factor in deciding the fate of each proposal -- how much of a public subsidy each developer will seek -- remains shrouded in secrecy. The Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency, refused to disclose any financial details, beyond confirming the names of the three developers and basic facts about their proposals.
M.J. "Jay" Brodie, BDC's president, contended that divulging more specifics would compromise the selection process and risk revealing "proprietary" financial information.
"We're going to run a clean process, so that no one can say that they were advantaged or disadvantaged by the release of information," Brodie said.
He said the BDC will review each proposal based on how well it answers the need for rooms, particularly for conventioneers, its projected economic impact and the amount of public assistance required. The agency hopes to recommend one of these three proposals by the end of January:
Schulweis Realty Co. Inc., a New York development firm that controls the News American site at 300 E. Pratt St., wants to build a 44-story, $173 million Westin Hotel there.
Baltimore's Cordish Co. pitched a 27-story, 800-room hotel for a state-owned site on Pratt Street now used as a New Community College of Baltimore parking lot. Before Cordish could develop the $139 million project, which would include an 800-car garage and 120,000 square feet of retail space, the company would need to negotiate a deal to gain control of the site.
H&S; Properties Inc., a company owned by H&S; Bakery Inc. President John Paterakis Sr., and Stormont Trice Development proposed a 750-room Hilton and a 150-suite hotel at Inner Harbor East. The 27-story project and related 1,000-space parking garage would cost $112.2 million.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said his administration would weigh requests for public assistance based on the BDC's review. "It's clear to me we need another hotel, so we would like to work with folks to do whatever is reasonable," he said.
Taking Brodie's cue, all three developers refused to comment yesterday. Cordish has said he would seek no public assistance. Schulweis is believed to be seeking tens of millions in government aid. Paterakis has been silent throughout the proposals.
Baltimore routinely loses millions of dollars worth of prospective business to competitors offering "headquarters" hotels, said Carroll R. Armstrong, president of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.
But hoteliers questioned whether the city is seeking too much too soon -- and risking a devastating downturn in the hospitality industry.
Convention bookings -- typically made three to five years in advance -- fall off dramatically by 1999 and 2000, well below current bookings.
"To say it should be built in 1999 or 2000, that could be devastating," said Robert Steele III, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor. "I think the only way one should be built that soon is if we get the bookings or prove they will definitely come if we add the hotel."
Pub Date: 12/14/96