Another plan for city hotel added to mix; Developers target East Baltimore tower for Comfort Suites; $17 million project; Site hopes to draw customers from nearby hospitals; Development

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Undaunted that seven hotels are targeted for construction in and around downtown Baltimore, a Maryland-based group is working on plans to build an eighth.

MetroVentures/USA of Columbia and Choice Hotels International of Silver Spring recently proposed to construct a $17 million, 156-room Comfort Suites hotel at Broadway and Fayette Street, between the Johns Hopkins medical campus and Church Hospital.

The hotel would be built within the 23-story shell of the Broadway Tower, a senior housing complex that has been vacant for more than a year. The developers intend to finance the project privately and are seeking no city subsidies.

If the Housing Authority of Baltimore City approves the plan, it would be the first time that developers have "privatized" a public housing tower in Baltimore and converted it into a hotel, creating jobs and generating tax revenue.

The proposed hotel would employ 100 and generate about $1 million a year in taxes. The building falls within the city's federally funded empowerment zone, making the hotel's development team eligible for tax credits for job creation.

Other members of the development team are Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., which would be the general contractor; Coakley & Williams, a hotel management company; Gant Hart Brunnett of Baltimore, the architect; and NationsBank, the lender. Fair Chance Inc., a nonprofit organization, would help train employees.

According to a proposal submitted last week to the city's housing authority, Comfort Suites would be an extended-stay, all-suites hotel offering apartment-like accommodations starting at less than $90 a night. It would primarily serve people who want to stay close to Hopkins' East Baltimore medical campus, Church Hospital, the Kennedy Krieger Institute or other destinations east of downtown.

To mark the new use, the tower's exterior would be painted and modified so it appears to have a top, middle and bottom. Instead of a flat roof, it would have a pitched metal roof with spires that are telecommunications antennae.

"This is an important project for the city, the neighborhood and the surrounding institutions," said architect Ken Hart.

In January, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said he would give developers until mid-March to submit plans for recycling the 28-year-old tower.

This week, city officials said the Comfort Suites proposal is the only one the housing authority has received for the building since Henson's comments. Zack Germroth, a housing authority spokesman, said he was not sure whether more will be submitted.

After the city receives an unsolicited offer for public property, it typically gives other groups time to bid. In this case, because the housing authority sought bids for the Broadway Tower several years ago and received none, it may not have a legal obligation to seek bids again.

Choice is one of the world's largest hotel franchisers, with more than 4,000 hotels in 33 countries. The Broadway hotel would be the first phase of a multiphase conversion proposed for the 23-story tower. Under the developers' plans, the hotel would occupy the top 13 floors, with 12 rooms or suites per floor. If construction began by year's end, Phase 1 could open by late next year.

The lower levels could be developed as a second phase containing office space or 96 hotel suites, depending on what the market could absorb.

Preliminary plans also call for construction of a garage with space for 250 cars to 800 cars.

In their proposal, the developers said they are not concerned about competing with other new hotels because theirs would be in a different part of the city and would cater to a niche market -- people who want to stay in a "mid-priced, value-oriented" hotel close to Hopkins.

Pub Date: 3/05/99

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