Neighbors not opposing proposed luxury hotel; Compatible structure would be accepted, but not 'some big thing'; Lodging


Southern Baltimore community leaders appear generally in favor of development of an $80 million Ritz-Carlton or other luxury hotel on Inner Harbor land in their neighborhood, provided existing parking and height restrictions are honored.

"I haven't seen any plans yet, but most of the people that I have talked to have said that they don't oppose the hotel so long as the covenants governing the property are adhered to," said David Marshall, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association.

Marshall made his comments as residents near the former Bethlehem Steel shipyard adjacent to the Rusty Scupper restaurant met yesterday evening with the Florida developer proposing the 300-room hotel.

Neil Fisher, head of a real estate investment fund pitching plans for a luxury hotel, said this week that residents' support is crucial for a Ritz-Carlton or other hotel. Without residents' support, Fisher said, he would "walk away" from the project.

"My feeling is that as long as the project adheres to the guidelines in place, I don't have a problem with it," said Dick Leitch, a former president of the Federal Hill group. "We all realize the land is valuable and that it will be developed. I just want it to be developed with respect to the residents' views from the park."

An abandoned six-story building, left from the shipyard operated by Bethlehem in the 1940s, is the only structure on the land Fisher hopes to develop. The property is governed by restrictions that prohibit development above 71 feet high. Those restrictions could be revoked by the city before they expire in 2007, according to city land record documents.

Fisher said Monday that his plans for a five-star hotel would be sensitive to the covenants. An initial plan calls for the hotel to be a wide, mid-rise structure.

"I was very impressed with him for being so sensitive to the neighborhood's needs," said Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and director of the American Visionary Arts Museum.

"I think it would be a great blessing. I have a lot of respect for the Ritz-Carlton organization, and it could enhance what we are doing here.

"On the other hand, if they put up some big thing, it could be terrible. We would be the hotel's closest neighbor, so we would have the most to gain or lose."

Residents and community leaders said they are cautious about the project -- which would have 500 full- and part-time employees -- though they realize the land is valuable and will eventually be developed.

"We don't want to stop development there. Why would we want to stop it?" Leitch said. "There's an ugly building there now."

One major concern is parking.

"We're getting a lot of new development, but what is common in all the projects is we're not getting any new parking," said Robert R. Gisriel, president of the Federal Hill South Neighborhood Association.

"I think it's a fine idea as long as it contains enough parking. It would be an attraction."

Typically, hotels provide garages with at least one parking space for each room. Nearby HarborView, where an apartment project is set to join a 27-story condominium tower, contains a 1,000-space garage.

Gisriel and others fear that those spaces would not be enough for both residents, hotel guests and employees.

Although Fisher said Monday that he would not seek public subsidies for the hotel and would rely on sales of luxury condominiums to offset the hotel's costs, sources familiar with the developer's plans said Fisher hopes to include the "Propeller Yard" -- the area where the proposed hotel would be built -- in a city-designated enterprise zone.

A proposal to extend a nearby enterprise zone to the area including Federal Hill and HarborView was defeated last year.

"I worked in the propeller yard; a lot of us old-timers around here did," said Jack Williams, president of the Riverside Action Group. "Having that here didn't bother us; why should a hotel, so long as it's developed in taste?"

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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