Hotel set for puttin' on the Ritz

The 225-room resort hotel and condominium project planned for Key Highway on Baltimore's Inner Harbor is now officially a Ritz, based on an agreement by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. LLC to manage the property, the project's developer said yesterday.

The agreement between Federal Hill Development LLC and Ritz-Carlton will enable the $156 million luxury project, which will use high-tech thumb readers instead of keys, to move toward an opening date of early 2003.


"Is Baltimore ready for such a radical jump forward?" asked Edward V. Giannasca II, president and chief executive officer of L. I. Square Corp., the project's developer. "I really believe it is. All the signs show it is."

Already, he said, 112 people have registered to buy one of the 97 condominium units, where prices for most units range from $500,000 to $1.5 million; the penthouse condominiums cost up to $3 million.


The penthouses will feature large, rooftop terraces offering between 1,000 and 1,600 square feet of outside space.

At least half a dozen people have put down $25,000 deposits on a unit, Giannasca said. They will have the chance to choose from about 30 floor plans, most of which offer harbor views.

Included among the amenities are private elevator entrances for most units, 24-hour concierge service, housekeeping and valet parking. Nearby boat slips will be able to accommodate yachts as large as 250 feet, Giannasca said.

Hotel room rates are expected to be about $300 a night, comparable to some of the city's other top hotels.

Groundbreaking is expected to begin next month with work on the bulkhead and demolition of an existing building. Construction is slated to begin by June, Giannasca said.

The project has a commitment for financing, Giannasca said, but he declined to provide details.

By spring, developers hope to have obtained state approval for inclusion in the Port Covington State Enterprise Zone, which would allow tax breaks until the 11th year after the hotel opened. Mayor Martin O'Malley has already approved the necessary change in Baltimore.

Florida real estate developer Neil Fisher first proposed a five-star luxury hotel for the site, the former Bethlehem Steel Corp. propeller yard on south side of the Inner Harbor in February 1999. Initial plans called for a midrise hotel of between 300 and 350 rooms.


In November 1999, The Sun reported that Fisher had no apparent assets and was refusing to pay a $1.28 million fraud judgment issued for a Maryland land deal. The Sun also reported that a close friend and partner of Fisher's on many projects was John R. Quinn, a New York developer once convicted along with disgraced savings and loan executive Jeffrey A. Levitt.

By January 2000, Fisher was no longer involved in the project, according to Ritz-Carlton officials. In previous projects in Florida, New York and Maryland, Fisher proposed upscale waterfront developments that ended amid disputes, bankruptcies and lawsuits alleging fraud."[Fisher] has no involvement whatsoever," Giannasca said yesterday. Nor do any of his family members have an interest, he said.

Giannasca said Philip Pilevsky, a New York City shopping center magnate, would own 90 percent of the project, and his sister, Sheila Levine, would own the remaining 10 percent. Pilevsky is best known for financially backing hotelier and Studio 54 owner Ian Schrager after Schrager's conviction for tax evasion in 1979.

In the two years since the project was proposed, it has undergone at least seven design revisions, most of them done to satisfy concerns of nearby residents and the city's Design Advisory Board about preserving the views and character of Federal Hill.

The project, which started out with a price tag of about $100 million, has gotten more expensive with the structural and design changes.

The hotel also underwent a change in architects in midstream. Michael Graves, of Princeton, N.J.-based Michael Graves & Associates, was replaced by a team headed by Paul Marks and Mark Heckman of Marks, Thomas and Associates in Baltimore, and John Nichols and Anne Jackaway of Nichols, Brosch, Sandoval and Associates in Coral Gables, Fla. - a firm that specializes in upscale hotels and which had designed seven for Ritz-Carlton.


Ritz-Carlton had been scouting for an appropriate Inner Harbor site for one of its five-star hotels since 1995, Ritz officials have said. Typically, Ritz-Carlton manages hotels but does not own them or invest in their construction.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., which is owned by Bethesda-based Marriott International Inc., manages 38 hotels and resorts worldwide in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East and North America.