A hotel that won't ignore the locals

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Although convention hotels are constructed primarily to accommodate out-of-town visitors, they can also be amenities for residents of the region where they're located.

Of the three groups vying to build a convention hotel in downtown Baltimore, one goes further than the others to include in its proposal features that would appeal to area residents as well as visitors.

The plan by TreyPort Ventures LLC is conceived as an "urban entertainment resort" with a "wellness clinic and spa" reminiscent of those in Scottsdale, Ariz., or Palm Springs, Calif. There would be an "all-digital media production center" with 36,000 square feet of movie soundstage and recording studio space.

Another element is an "all season street festival promenade" next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, an area that would double as a showcase for Baltimore.

"We envision the space to be a multimedia experience with music, interactive light effects, large video screens, touchable artifacts and interesting tidbits about the Baltimore sports and entertainment industries," the developers said in a summary of their project. "It will be a wonderful opportunity for visitors and residents to learn about the films, television productions, music and movie artists that have enriched patrons of the arts about Baltimore around the world."

All of this would be in addition to 869 hotel guest rooms, reached from an upper-level sky lobby, and 55,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.

The $250 million plan is the most expensive of three submitted in response to the city's request for bids from developers who want to build a hotel with at least 750 guest rooms west of the Baltimore Convention Center, on the city-owned blocks bounded by Pratt, Howard, Camden and Paca streets.

TreyPort is a collaboration of Treyball Development of Beverly Hills, Calif., headed by actor Will Smith (who is married to Baltimore native Jada Pinkett Smith) and his brother Harry Smith, and Portman Holdings of Atlanta. John Portman & Associates would be the architect, and Robert C. Hazard III of MetroVision Community Development in Pittsburgh is the development consultant.

TreyPort is competing against a group headed by Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, and a group called the Believe Team, headed by Baltimore businessmen Otis Warren and Willard Hackerman, and Garfield Traub Development of Dallas.

Both Johnson and the Believe Team proposed hotels with at least 750 guest rooms and related meeting space. Johnson proposed a Hilton hotel on the two blocks west of the Convention Center. His architect, RTKL Associates, calls for the bulk of the hotel to be in a 24-story structure on the block just west of Howard Street and north of historic Camden Station. Additional structures on the next block would contain expansion space and a headquarters for Catholic Relief Services.

The Believe Team would put a 755-room Westin Hotel on the block bounded by Pratt, Eutaw, Camden and Paca streets and leaves open the block in front of Camden Station. It also has offered to build its hotel on Conway Street, just west of the Sheraton Hotel at Conway and Charles streets, and reserve the city-owned blocks west of the convention center for other uses, such as an arena.

TreyPort took a different approach. It didn't have another site to move the hotel to, like Hackerman and Warren, so it focused on the blocks offered by the city. Unlike the Believe Team, it did not keep the block in front of Camden Station open as a public plaza. But in deference to Oriole Park, it did propose to keep the building on that block below 150 feet, to minimize obstruction of views to and from the ballpark. It would put the bulk of its hotel on the westernmost block, where it would rise about 275 feet.

"We were concerned about the views from home plate," Hazard said. "We didn't want a hulking building looming" over center field.

"We could build more rooms if we could go taller" on the block in front of Camden Station, but "we couldn't in good conscience do it," he added. "That stadium was not built to be blocked in by some cliff-like structure. Camden Yards is the stadium by which all others are measured."

Working within these parameters, the designers have proposed spaces that were not required by the city and are not included in the other proposals. They are designed to make this proposal stand out by suggesting ways to bring life to the west side of downtown Baltimore, whether a convention is in town or not.

Hazard said his team wanted to introduce features that would complement the convention center and hotel and give local residents and tourists a reason to come to the area.

"You want to tap into Baltimore's strengths," he said. "You want to plug into every strength that you can on the site. We're not treating this as just a hotel."

One attraction is the promenade that would be created along Eutaw Street, between Camden and Pratt streets. The promenade would be a continuation of the pedestrian-only Eutaw Street Promenade within Oriole Park, the walkway south of Camden Street between the huge B&O; warehouse and the right field stands.

Since TreyPort's hotel would straddle both sides of Eutaw Street, the development team would essentially control what happens there.

TreyPort proposed closing Eutaw Street to cars and making it a skylight-covered pedestrian promenade connecting downtown Baltimore with Oriole Park and Ravens Stadium.

Along this pedestrian arcade would be stores oriented to Baltimore, its sports and entertainment industries, plus food and beverage outlets.

One precedent, Hazard says, is the Fremont Street Experience, an attraction in downtown Las Vegas where a 90-foot-high canopy encloses a 4-acre site upon which light and sound shows are projected by computer. Baltimore's promenade plan has been called the Eutaw Street Experience.

Hazard said Treyball has been looking for locations in several cities, including Baltimore, for studios where film, video and music projects can be developed digitally.

He said the Smiths believe such a project would be compatible with Baltimore's convention center because the design requirements for studio space are not very different from those for convention center exhibition space. When not in use for media production, he said, the facility could be used as overflow space by the convention center.

A digital media production center is "a huge point of competitive differentiation and would give the Baltimore Convention Center an appeal to a whole new type of potential convention client - one that is looking for on-site production and broadcasting capabilities," the developers say.

Plans also call for a signature restaurant and bar with outdoor terraces overlooking Oriole Park; 48 suites overlooking Oriole Park; a VIP check-in area complete with a private elevator, and 592 parking spaces, many of them underground.

Some aspects of this proposal are not as fully developed as in the other two. A hotel chain has not been named yet. And the design work appears to be at a more schematic level than that submitted by Johnson and the Believe Team, which is working with Peter Fillat Architects.

Hazard said the hotel will not be the sort of atrium-style hotel that Portman pioneered with the Hyatt chain several decades ago. In this case, he said, the designers will be working to find ways to add life to the street and make connections with Oriole Park and other attractions on the west side of downtown. He explained that the team didn't want to name a hotel operator until after it finds out whether its proposal is selected, because that would be more economically advantageous for the project and would give the city and convention bureau a chance to participate in the process.

Officials with the Baltimore Development Corp. say they are reviewing the three proposals now and hope to decide how to proceed sometime this spring.

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