MAYOR KURT L. SCHMOKE, like any good executive, should following the guidance of his expert advisers. That is especially true on the issue of building a new downtown hotel as a way to avoid a sharp drop in business at the recently expanded Baltimore Convention Center.
The mayor last year brought in Carroll R. Armstrong, a highly touted marketing director, to lure more conventions to this city; persuaded a prestigious business leader, Roger C. Lipitz, to lead a new Baltimore Development Corp. board, and lured back to Baltimore a respected urban development expert, M. J. Brodie, to direct BDC activities. All of them disagree with the mayor's downtown hotel decision. And for good reason.
Mr. Armstrong says developer John Paterakis' Inner Harbor East lot (south of Little Italy) is so far away from the Convention Center it "is not a convention headquarters hotel [site] and it would not serve that need."
Mr. Lipitz wrote the mayor of his deep concern the city might turn the $150 million Convention Center expansion into a white elephant by backing a convention headquarters hotel so far away. He said this could prove "very costly to the city" and harm convention bookings.
Mr. Brodie has expressed the same misgivings in private meetings with the mayor. He and his staff strongly recommended that the city support a hotel site much closer to the Convention Center -- where the News American building once stood. Their concerns also parallel the analysis of the various convention hotel sites by Legg Mason Realty, which found the Paterakis location the least desirable.
Given all these factors, Mayor Schmoke must re-visit his decision to give a substantial city subsidy to an Inner Harbor East hotel. His earlier suggestion of a smaller, mid-sized suite hostelry at that site -- combined with an 800-room convention hotel closer to the Convention Center -- makes far more sense.
Unless he changes course, the mayor could have a difficult time persuading legislators to approve state funds to underwrite a hotel so distant from the Convention Center. The numbers, as outlined in the Legg Mason study, just don't add up. That could cast a pall over Mr. Schmoke's efforts to gain General Assembly backing for other city priorities next year.
There is no room for error. This project must be done right.
Pub Date: 4/27/97