Mayor invites proposals for Camden Yards hotel Schmoke says city aid would be limited

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, apparently seeking to end a four-month controversy over the site of a major new downtown convention hotel, offered yesterday to entertain proposals for another hotel that would be built on city-owned land and be connected to the convention center.

Schmoke, whose choice in February of a hotel site a mile from the convention center over two closer sites sparked widespread criticism, said yesterday that growth in the convention and tourism industry would easily sustain two major hotels in the next five years.

Schmoke's comments came as the city negotiates with a development team planning a 750-room Wyndham Hotel at Inner Harbor East and as Orioles principal owner Peter Angelos prepares to propose an 800- to 1,000-room Grand Hyatt hotel on four acres of city-owned land at Camden Yards.

But Schmoke, in an interview after speaking to about 40 state legislators who toured prospective downtown hotel sites on an MTA bus, added a significant caveat: The city would limit subsidies for a second hotel to the land itself, tax breaks and revenue bonds, not direct subsidies.

The Grand Hyatt development team told legislators it is seeking only the land and public support for an 800-car parking garage, costing less than $10 million, and subsidies could come in various forms from the city or the state. The Wyndham team, assembled by John Paterakis Sr., is seeking $42 million in public subsidies.

Speaking to members of two key House of Delegates committees at the newly expanded Baltimore Convention Center, Schmoke pointed to the doubling of the annual budget for the agency that markets the city, to $6 million, and a host of new attractions.

Baltimore, he said, would soon be "one of the great tourism and convention sites in the United States and particularly the premier site on the East Coast."

Predicting a surge in overnight guests in a downtown that now has about 4,000 hotel rooms, the mayor said: "I have no doubt we'll have two major hotels in Baltimore in the next five years, and the only issue is which goes up first.

"When you think about location and sites of new hotels, you've got to think about Baltimore four years from now, not four years ago, and not even today. This is a dynamic situation, and we are moving ahead with a great deal of confidence into the future."

The mayor presented a more hopeful view than hotel analysts, including those commissioned by the city to study proposals. An analysis by Legg Mason Realty Group Inc. said the city should add only about 1,000 rooms, or risk a glut and potentially a devastating downturn in occupancy.

Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, welcomed the mayor's decision. Armstrong, among the most vocal and consistent supporters of a headquarters hotel, told the lawmakers: "In order to play well and play in the major leagues, we need to have a convention headquarters hotel. We have [convention] groups sitting on the fence" awaiting a decision on a headquarters hotel.

With the increase in marketing spending, the center has already increased bookings, which drop precipitously by 1999, and such a hotel would ensure its long-term health, Armstrong said.

Schmoke said the city would put out a request for proposals after the Hyatt team formally proposes its hotel, and place those submitted on a "fast track" to be reviewed within a month by the city's economic development agency, Baltimore Development Corp.

Dale E. Moulton, Hyatt Hotels Corp.'s vice president for development, said its proposal would be sent to the BDC by June 16 and would include a developer, financing package and the Hyatt chain as a 20 percent equity partner.

Under the city's timetable, Schmoke said, both the Wyndham and the Grand Hyatt could be approved by summer's end, and work could start by December.

The request for proposals will be limited to the Camden Yards site, across Howard Street from the Convention Center, and will not be limited to hotels. It differs from the one the BDC issued last fall in a few key respects. The earlier request called only for hotels to serve the Convention Center but did not specify sites. The first request did make plain the city hoped to develop the Camden Yards site -- but made available only about two acres.

Angelos had planned to propose a hotel in the first round but withdrew because he disliked the design, which he said attempted to squeeze too much into too little space.

Building the Grand Hyatt would allay widespread fears that Baltimore could lose tens of millions of dollars in business for lack of a headquarters hotel that meeting planners seek -- typically with 1,000 rooms and within a block of a convention center.

Those concerns, more than any, weigh in favor of building the Grand Hyatt, Moulton said.

During the 2 1/2 -hour hotel site tour, Moulton stood inside the convention center next to the glass facade overlooking the parking lots that would become the hotel, surrounded by colorful renderings and a model of what would be only the sixth Grand Hyatt in the nation.

Pointing to where an enclosed walkway would link the hotel and the center, he said, "We were really hoping for rain today; it would have made our point perfectly."

Key legislators, some of whom had expressed alarm over lack of a headquarters hotel jeopardizing the state's $100 million investment in the convention center, shared the mayor's enthusiasm.

"I see great potential for more than one hotel site," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a key architect of the increase in marketing money to lure conventions. "The market in Baltimore will be so dense and so big, and I can see Inner Harbor East and the Hyatt being equally important pieces of this great vision that we have for Baltimore."

Pub Date: 6/05/97

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