Get it right this time Convention Center: As city seeks further development, earlier mistakes should be avoided.


IN TRYING to get a new convention hotel built in Baltimore, City Hall has never quite figured out what it wants. That's why Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke gave development rights to a speculative 45-story hotel off the beaten path a mile from the Convention Center, when this city desperately needs convenient rooms for conventioneers and a hotel that is a guaranteed success.

The city now has another chance to get things right. It is seeking proposals for two parcels next to the Convention Center. The deadline is Oct. 6.

The specifications issued by the Baltimore Development Corp. seem right. This was not the case in the earlier round, when even Mr. Schmoke seemed confused by them.

He was misleading when he contended last Sunday on the page opposite this one that "not one major hotel developer, indeed not one developer of any kind, bid to build on the city-owned lots west of the Convention Center," when bids were sought last fall.

He's right that no group bid on the single, skimpy, two-acre parcel that Baltimore City officials had offered for development. Try to cram a major hotel into such a tight building site.

But the current request for proposals is for two lots totaling four acres. It was prompted by an unsolicited bid the city received from Peter Angelos. The principal owner of the Orioles wants to build a hotel complex of 850 rooms, gradually rising at the western end of the site to 22 stories.

The Baltimore Development Corp.'s invitation to developers is a broad one. The agency says it wants "to provide a development opportunity that will result in a high quality single use or mixed-use development" and will "benefit the Inner Harbor West urban renewal district and enhance surrounding neighborhoods and the city as a whole."

The specifications' density and height restrictions seem tailor-made for the Angelos hotel but could accommodate rival developers' concepts as well. The city says it expects to sell or lease the land at fair market value.

The lots in question are among Baltimore's most prestigious. A few years ago, one of them was offered as a headquarters site to the federal Health Care Financing Administration, but that agency ended up in Woodlawn.

The Convention Center location is so important there is no room for error. The BDC's board should not hesitate to reject proposals it receives if they are not ideal for the site.

Pub Date: 8/27/97

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