New twist on hotel decision Rival proposals: Site near Convention Center ought to be Baltimore's No. 1 priority.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WHAT STARTED AS Baltimore City's search for a publicly subsidized convention headquarters hotel has taken yet another odd twist. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says his "preference" now is to have about 2,000 new rooms by the year 2002, a goal that might involve building three additional hotels of varying sizes.

"I think that [tourist and convention] business would absorb that, if we bring them in one after the other," he said.

In accordance with the mayor's new view, development proposals will be sought for empty city-owned lots next to the Convention Center. A group led by Orioles owner Peter Angelos has said it will soon submit a formal plan to build an 800-to-1,000-room Grand Hyatt hotel there. Rival operators may propose other hotels or mixed-use buildings for the five-acre site.

The end result is that by late summer, the city could be considering two convention headquarters hotel projects.

This would offer a way out for the Schmoke administration, which has come under heavy criticism for supporting a plan by bakery mogul John Paterakis to build a publicly subsidized hotel on a lot he owns south of Little Italy. Meeting planners and tourism officials are adamant that the site is too far from the Convention Center, which was recently expanded at a cost of $151 million to taxpayers to attract big out-of-town meetings.

Since Mr. Schmoke is committed to the Paterakis hotel, it is likely to be built. The question now is which one will come first -- a new Convention Center hotel or the hotel gamble near Little Italy? Industry experts say that while Baltimore may be able to support two big new hotels, they have to be staggered so as not to glut the market.

When the city started its search for a new hotel, the clear intent was to build it as close to the Convention Center as possible. In later deliberations, the Baltimore Development Corp. veered from that sensible goal. The question became a game of political football with City Hall calling the plays.

Mayor Schmoke and BDC now have a second chance. We urge them to go for what the professional meeting planners want: a Convention Center headquarters hotel that will strengthen deplorably low future bookings at that costly facility and bring badly needed additional tourism dollars to Baltimore.

Pub Date: 6/08/97

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