Schmoke's $57.7 million crap shoot Taxpayer subsidy: Mayor's insistence on risky hotel site could create anti-city backlash.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IN PROPOSING a $57.7 million public subsidy for a $137.6 million hotel that is too distant to benefit the troubled Convention Center -- but might make a splendid site for a casino -- the Baltimore Development Corp. has made a huge mistake. Encouraged by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, BDC has now given its approval to a hotel project that faces so many political hurdles it may never materialize.

The situation is quite astonishing. Many convention experts warn that the proposed hotel location is too inconvenient to strengthen the weak bookings of the Convention Center, which the state recently expanded at a cost of $150 million to taxpayers.

State politicians, who would have to approve the subsidies, also appear skeptical. The tone is set by city Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, who says: "I just think it's going to be very difficult for the General Assembly to be supportive of this project or any public subsidy for any hotel that is clearly not in the best interest of the state's investment in the Inner Harbor and the Convention Center. I think this is going to be a major issue during [next year's] session with regard to support for Baltimore City."

Bakery magnate John Paterakis, who is a generous contributor to Mayor Schmoke and many other key politicians, has denied his proposed 750-room Wyndham hotel would be a gambling casino. Speculation, however, persists, particularly because plans include a 1,000-car parking garage and such flexible ground-floor amenities as two ballrooms covering a total of 35,000 square feet.

The mayor's commitment to the Paterakis site -- which is one mile from the Convention Center and the most remote of hotel alternatives -- is curious. He seems to like the location south of Little Italy because it is in the federally designated empowerment zone and could extend revitalization along the waterfront. And yet the Paterakis proposal violates the 1990 urban renewal plan for Inner Harbor East, where the city has spent millions of dollars on infrastructure that might have to be redone.

Our view is that substantial public subsidies ought to be spent only on a hotel that makes the Convention Center viable. The Paterakis proposal is not such a hotel. Mayor Schmoke is courting dangerous backlash among Baltimore-bashers in Annapolis if he asks for public aid for this risky endeavor.

Pub Date: 7/02/97

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