Work to start on hotel near harbor


After overcoming a lawsuit, a late-night injunction and a partial loss of financing, Baltimore's long-delayed Marriott Residence Inn is to formally break ground today in the central business district, more than four years after the project was first proposed.

The 15-story tower, planned for the southeast corner of Redwood and Light streets, will feature 188 units and be Baltimore's first hotel built for extended stays.

"It's been a long time coming," said Kevin M. Urgo, senior vice president of Urgo Hotels, a Bethesda developer.

"It's going to be a terrific amenity for the city. It's the only purpose-built, all-suite, upscale extended-stay hotel in the city."

Site work began about a month ago on the hotel, which is expected to cost more than $28 million, Urgo said.

Opening is scheduled for fall 2004.

The project's most recent obstacle was a lawsuit filed in October by a group of taxpayers and a hotel workers union, which alleged that the city broke its own rules in granting a $3.2 million, 10-year tax break known as a PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes.

That lawsuit claimed that the project would create 70 jobs instead of the 100 required under state law and that the project did not meet the minimum $50 million investment.

But the city argued that it could employ an older version of the PILOT law that had more flexible terms.

The city also approved a one-time reduction in the investment threshold for this project.

City Circuit Judge Kaye A. Allison agreed with the city and dismissed the lawsuit last month.

The hotel overcame an earlier legal action in 2000 when preservationists secured a late-night injunction and temporarily stopped demolition of the historic Sun Life building at 109 E. Redwood St. and the Merchants and Miners building next door at 17 Light St.

Although the developer ultimately prevailed, Urgo lost some of its financing because of the delay.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent downturn in travel soured the hotel financing market and led the developer to request public subsidy, Urgo and city development officials have said.

Officials at the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, have said they consider the project critically important to the central business district and a way to meld it with the Inner Harbor.

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