MANY A GAME has been lost because of a wrong opening move. This is now a distinct possibility in Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's hotel gambit: He has so wedded himself to the ill-conceived proposal of building a publicly subsidized hotel a mile away from the Convention Center that Baltimore is in real danger of not getting the additional rooms it needs by the year 2000. If this happens, the Convention Center's solvency will be threatened and the city's ability to compete for tourism dollars will be undermined.
The way to prevent this twin disaster from happening is to allow a rival hotel to be built close to the Convention Center and let the market decide. When John Paterakis' proposal for a 750-room, 44-story Wyndham Hotel south of Little Italy comes up for contract approval -- possibly this Wednesday -- Mayor Schmoke and the rest of the Board of Estimates should refrain from giving that venture a monopoly on hotel construction.
Delaying a rival hotel until 2002 or beyond would further complicate the mess the mayor and Baltimore Development Corp. made by initially recommending subsidies for Mr. Paterakis' far-away location.
Hospitality planners have deemed that site to be so inconvenient that they doubt a new hotel there would help Baltimore's struggling Convention Center. State legislators, for their part, have attacked the choice in such unmistakable terms that Mayor Schmoke decided not to seek state subsidies for the project. Like hospitality planners, legislators favor a new hotel next to the Convention Center.
If the Paterakis hotel is to materialize, a total of some $17.5 million in bonds must be approved by city voters in November 1998. It is highly likely, though, that the aid package will be defeated, endangering the whole project.
The Board of Estimates would be foolish to tie the city's hands by protecting Mr. Paterakis from competition. The main objective ought to be building additional rooms as soon as possible to bolster business at the state-financed Baltimore Convention Center. The rest is a marketing question.
The controversy created by the Schmoke administration's support of the inconvenient Paterakis site has made the new Baltimore hotel a statewide issue. The city has not won any new friends because of its fumbling so far. It cannot afford to make any new enemies.
Pub Date: 7/20/97