THE SAD, STRANGE saga of Baltimore's quest for a convention headquarters hotel has taken another curious twist. Peter Angelos, the Orioles owner, has signed a letter of intent with Hyatt Hotels Corp. to build an 800-to-1,000 luxury hotel on city land just west of the Convention Center. It would be only the fifth Grand Hyatt in the nation -- the others are in Atlanta, New York, San Francisco and Washington -- and the Hyatt corporation would be a 20 percent owner.
This new proposal puts Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the Baltimore Development Corp. in a ticklish situation. Less than three months ago, they awarded exclusive negotiating rights to bakery mogul John Paterakis, who proposes to build a publicly-subsidized 750-room hotel on a waterfront parcel south of Little Italy. Although his site was the farthest away from the Convention Center -- about a mile away -- Mr. Paterakis' proposal won over two others, including one from Westin Hotels.
Although Mr. Paterakis is steaming ahead to meet his June 30 deadline and has announced the Wyndham chain as his operator, the consensus among convention planners is that his hotel would be too distant from the Convention Center, recently expanded with $151 million in taxpayers' money, to help bookings. The Westin site would be somewhat closer. The dream site, however, is where Mr. Angelos proposes to build his four-star hotel. It adjoins the Convention Center, to which it would be linked with an enclosed walkway.
When Mr. Angelos formally presents his proposal to the city, Mayor Schmoke and the BDC must choose whether to reject a plan that has the best chance of giving Baltimore the kind of headquarters hotel that could truly improve the Convention Center's business or follow a deeply flawed process that would give the city a distant hotel that convention planners already scoff at.
The choice is obvious. With the clock ticking on the Paterakis proposal, the city ought to open parallel negotiations with the Angelos group. His is a brand-new proposal that has nothing to do with the previous competition.
The Grant Hyatt plan looks like Baltimore's best chance to strengthen the troubled Convention Center. If the mayor and BDC shoot it down, the future viability of the Convention Center -- and Baltimore's convention business -- could be in grave jeopardy.
Pub Date: 5/17/97