Mayor budges on Angelos hotel project Schmoke will meet with rival developers before setting timetable; Sooner than 2002?; Executive still favors Inner Harbor East over Camden Yards site

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Amid criticism of a decision to delay the opening of a hotel across from the Baltimore Convention Center until at least 2002, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke softened his stance yesterday, saying he would meet with competing developers before deciding the timetable.

Schmoke's comments, in an interview, came after a morning conversation between the mayor and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who has proposed a 22-story Grand Hyatt on city-owned parking lots at the Camden Yards property and has sharply criticized the decision to delay its potential opening.

Also yesterday, adding yet another twist to the city's tortuous review of projects, the Maryland Stadium Authority confirmed that it intends to propose a park and a 749-space underground parking garage on two of the four acres at Camden Yards.

But at the same time, the agency's chairman, John A. Moag Jr., said its $23 million project and a major hotel could easily co-exist on the city-owned land. He called a convention headquarters hotel critical to the health of the center and the city's tourism industry.

On the possible construction of a hotel at that site, Schmoke said: "What I'm saying is, before we set the terms on the timing -- and it's clear we have to set some terms -- before we set it in concrete, we have to sit down and talk to all the people who want to build hotels."

But the mayor repeated concerns that flooding the market with too many hotel rooms too soon could devastate downtown's hospitality industry.

His top priority, Schmoke said, would be ensuring the financial success of existing hotels and the heavily subsidized Wyndham Hotel, which would comprise 750 rooms and rise about 30 stories at the harbor's edge. That hotel, which received the blessing of the city's economic development agency Monday, would be built south of Little Italy, about a mile from the Baltimore Convention Center.

Schmoke would not elaborate on how long a hotel at Camden Yards might have to wait to guard against glutting the market.

Speaking of the Wyndham, the $137 million hotel proposed by a team assembled by baking mogul John Paterakis Sr., Schmoke said: "In my view, the Inner Harbor East project is the one that will go first. We won't do anything that's going to undermine its financial viability.'

But as Baltimore Development Corp. enters contract negotiations with the Wyndham development group, the city is moving ahead with plans to seek hotel proposals for the Camden Yards property. BDC President M. J. Brodie had said the request would go out by Sunday, with a 45- to 60-day period for developers to respond, but Schmoke said it would be unlikely to go out that soon.

BDC's Monday vote to move forward with the Wyndham, which seeks some $58 million in public financing, and to delay opening xTC any hotel at Camden Yards for five years drew sharp criticism from state legislators, City Council members, business leaders and community leaders.

The board's moves -- which BDC members and a spokesman for the mayor had said Schmoke had approved -- intensified fears that the lack of a hotel closer to the struggling convention center would jeopardize the $151 million public investment in its expansion.

"We need a convention hotel, and we have a direct interest in that, and Inner Harbor East is not a convention hotel," Moag said. He noted in a letter to BDC that the stadium authority subsidized the convention center to the tune of $2.4 million a year.

That amount could rise drastically, as most of it covers operating losses, and abysmal future bookings threaten to increase the red ink markedly.

Moag said the Grand Hyatt could be built just west of the park and underground parking, which would occupy the land in front of Camden Station.

An underground walkway could connect the hotel to the center, he said.

"It not only has no negative impact [on a hotel]; it probably would have a very positive impact," Moag said of the stadium authority's project.

Schmoke, in his first public comments on the BDC's vote, said he would reconsider the decision on a possible opening date to give developers, including Angelos, a chance to make their cases.

Angelos, who could not be reached yesterday, had called on the mayor Tuesday to honor a "personal commitment' to provide the land and allow the hotel to move forward quickly.

Schmoke said he's hopeful that Angelos and Paterakis will meet and help determine the timetable themselves.

"I'm simply saying, 'Look, you all are very good business people; you know you don't want to undermine your various projects.' "

But the Hyatt team, which seeks all four acres of the land as part of $51 million worth of public subsidies, for an 850-room Grand Hyatt connected to the convention center by enclosed walkway, said it would go forward with its plan if the city provided the land, regardless of whether the Wyndham does.

The Hyatt proposal, filed a week ago, came amid mounting pressure on the Schmoke administration from lawmakers, business leaders to support a hotel nearer the city's convention center, where the expansion and renovation was completed in April.

Angelos said he proposed the Grand Hyatt, which would be owned by him and Hyatt Hotels Corp., primarily because of fears that the lack of a convention headquarters hotel would jeopardize the future of the center.

Schmoke's February decision to grant exclusive negotiating rights to the Wyndham team -- assembled by baking mogul John Paterakis -- unleashed a torrent of criticism.

The Wyndham still needs state and city lawmakers' approval and must go to voter referendum. The development group seeks about about $38 million in bond proceeds, $10 million in city grants, a $10 million state loan and major changes to the Inner Harbor East master plan.

And on top of the running debate on the hotel's distance from the convention center, lawmakers say an issue closer to home for nearby residents -- the towering hotel's size -- could present a major obstacle.

"I think one of the big issues is size and scale," said state Sen. Perry Sfikas, a Baltimore Democrat. "It's just too big, and one of the things that makes the area around it so appealing is the scale."

City Councilman John L. Cain, a 1st District Democrat, said he would oppose the hotel, which he called a thinly veiled "ploy to bring a casino there."

"I'm prepared to fight and vote no all the way. It's not only an attempt to bring gambling, it's too big, it's too far from the convention center. We know these things."

Pub Date: 7/03/97

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