After months of intense debate over where to build a taxpayer-subsidized hotel to serve Baltimore's expanded Convention Center, key state lawmakers will get a close-up look at four proposed hotel sites today during a whirlwind bus tour.
The tour, arranged by the General Assembly's House Appropriations and Economic Matters committees, will enable as many as 40 lawmakers to question developers at each of the sites:
A 750-room Wyndham at Inner Harbor East, where a team that includes Baltimore baking mogul John Paterakis Sr. is seeking more than $42 million in public subsidies and has received exclusive negotiating rights to build a mile from the Convention Center.
An 800-room Westin proposed by New York's Schulweis Realty Inc. on the former News American site the developer controls on East Pratt Street.
An 800- to 1,000-room Grand Hyatt that Orioles principal owner Peter Angelos plans to propose this month on city-owned land just west of the Convention Center, at Camden Yards.
An 800-room hotel proposed by Baltimore-based Cordish Co. at Pratt Street and Market Place, on a site controlled by Baltimore City Community College.
After the tour, there will be a 1 p.m. briefing, open to the public, at the Convention Center. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, leaders of the city's convention bureau and its economic development agency, Baltimore Development Corp., are to field questions and update legislators on Convention Center marketing, bookings and the headquarters hotel.
Alarm over the prospect of the lack of a convention headquarters hotel costing Baltimore millions of dollars in potential business at the under-booked Convention Center has intensified here since Schmoke chose the $112 million Inner Harbor East hotel, just south of Little Italy.
Granting Paterakis exclusive negotiating rights in February, Schmoke rejected the recommendation of his economic development agency's staff, its chairman, the city's convention bureau and an expert panel appointed to study the proposals.
Critics, including those who book convention business, say the lack of a headquarters hotel close to the center would drive away potential business in the fiercely competitive, $83 billion-a-year meetings industry.
Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said the fact-finding tour and meeting came in response to concerns about the state's $100 million investment in the Convention Center's $151 million expansion.
"We have a substantial investment in downtown Baltimore and in the Convention Center," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat. "And a lot of that investment is mainly to promote tourism, and we want to make sure that investment is protected and that the public has confidence in General Assembly decisions to support such major investments."
He noted that beyond denying state contributions to any hotel subsidy, the lawmakers have no direct control over the choice and cannot overturn the mayor's decisions.
"But," Rawlings added, "we certainly have a lot of control over future investment in city projects. The state has to protect its economic investment. We have to maintain integrity with the taxpayers of the state."
For his part, Schmoke said negotiations between BDC and the Paterakis team would move forward and that he had no reason to believe Paterakis' team would fail to meet city-established conditions.
The mayor said he would withhold comment on the Angelos proposal until it is filed, at which point he said the city would likely entertain proposals for the city-owned parcels at Camden Yards.
Within the next five years, the mayor said, he believes a surge in convention and leisure travel to Baltimore would generate demand for more than 2,000 additional hotel rooms, in a downtown that now has about 4,000.
"I am hopeful; I keep telling people that between now and the year 2002, the business is going to be able to absorb at least that many hotel rooms," Schmoke said.
Pub Date: 6/04/97