'Duh': some more ideas if wrong hotel site wins

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Readers note: Due to a production error, a portion of Dan Rodricks' column was omitted in the Wednesday Carroll County edition. The Sun regrets the error and is repeating the entire column.

I know what you're thinking: The Schmoke administration's persistent support of John Paterakis' hotel proposal doesn't make any sense. What's wrong with these blockheads? They want to put a convention headquarters hotel almost a mile from the Convention Center -- at Big John's Inner Harbor East, south of Little Italy -- while there's another perfectly good proposal to stick a Grand Hyatt right across the street from the Convention Center. Given the clear choice, the Schmoke administration is poised to make the wrong one.

The Baltimore Development Corp., led by the otherwise astute and sensible Jay Brodie, has given the Paterakis plan the high-five, offered more than $57 million in public financing and promised to find a way around citizen referendums on some of the financing issues. Nice.

Add to the defenders of Project Paterakis the inimitable Dan Henson. He says investing public millions in a hotel almost a mile away from the Convention Center is "in the best interest of the city," which levels what of Henson's credibility had been left standing in the rubble of his tenure as city housing commissioner.

Such a mess, and smelling of politics. When they do the oral history of Baltimore, this Paterakis hotel/Convention Center fiasco will go down as a big "duh."

Unless, of course, the City Council or General Assembly -- or perhaps even an informed and outraged citizenry -- stop it.

If, however, the Schmoke administration persists and wins the various approvals needed for this hotel, which is extravagant in its stupidity, then it should consider other, equally extravagant measures to guarantee the project's success.

I'm talking location, location, location!

Much has been made -- in this space and elsewhere -- of the inconvenient distance between the expanded Baltimore Convention Center and the site of the Paterakis hotel, south of Little Italy.

You can get there from there, but it's not simple.

I walked the route and, though I enjoyed the stroll, it took about a half-hour, and I couldn't imagine a conventioneer doing that on foot each day. A cab ride takes longer than one might expect. The USS Torsk? It's not a taxi service. Water taxis? They get you from Pier 6 to the Inner Harbor, but from there you still have five long blocks to the new section of the Convention Center, at Pratt and Howard. Imagine doing that in the winter.

So here's an idea:

Let's have Dan Henson send in wrecking contractors -- preferably relatives or close friends -- to tear down Little Italy. Displaced residents will be offered free townhouses and condominiums in the big Paterakis development to the south. (I know that sounds extreme, but we're trying to make up for an extremely bad decision.)

Once the city tears down Little Italy, we move the Convention Center there. (How do we do that? I have no idea; I'm a visionary, not an engineer.) On the large expanse of ground left after the Convention Center move, we re-establish all the restaurants from Little Italy -- a Pasta Row, if you will -- while leaving room for parking. (Imagine going out for a ballgame or an Italian dinner in Baltimore and not having to worry about where to park.)

Too radical?

OK.

Allow me, then, to revive an idea floated two decades ago by Wally Orlinsky, former president of the City Council, one of our most gifted but unappreciated urban thinkers.

If there is to be this big hotel at the wrong location, then let's build an elevated, people-mover monorail.

The "airbuses" would run on tracks suspended above the downtown streets from a series of steel poles. They could carry as many as 18,000 passengers a day and travel at speeds of 50 to 75 mph. That's what Wally O. proposed in 1974, after researching airbus systems in West Germany and Canada.

Downtown planners still wonder how to broaden the city's tourism district eastward -- how to get tourists to leave the Inner Harbor and cross the great divides of Pratt and Lombard streets to visit the Brokerage area of Marketplace. With the Paterakis hotel, they'd have another puzzle -- how to get people west, from the hotel to the Convention Center, without a lot of fuss and bother. The airbus is the answer.

Or maybe we could throw some big, greasy wires across town and run cable cars between the hotel and the Convention Center.

Or every hotel guest gets a moped, or Rollerblades.

Or maybe they could all stay in their rooms and watch their conventions on closed-circuit TV.

Or -- I got it! -- maybe Paterakis could pack all his hotel guests into yellow H&S; Bakery trucks and send them to the Convention Center that way. With breakfast served on board!

Pub Date: 7/06/97

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