Downtown hotel plans due today


Best and final offers for a proposed convention headquarters hotel for downtown are due at the Baltimore Development Corp. by noon today.

But the city's quasi-public development agency does not expect to release details of the three anticipated proposals until it has had time to review them - a week or more - and offered no timetable for selecting a winner.

"These are highly thoughtful proposals," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the BDC. "These folks have devoted a lot of time to this."

Brodie said that after a review by his staff, the proposals will go to an advisory panel for study. Then the BDC board will examine the projects and make a recommendation to the mayor.

The time for public debate on the hotel will come once the proposals have been narrowed to one team, Brodie has said.

"We would expect and welcome more community participation," Brodie said this week.

The city was seeking proposals to build a headquarters hotel to boost business at the flagging Baltimore Convention Center. Expected to cost $200 million, the hotel would be built on two vacant blocks just west of the Convention Center and north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The three expected proposals come from teams headed by Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television; Atlanta-based Portman Holdings LP, and Treyball Development Inc., a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based real estate company headed by actor Will Smith and his brother Harry; and a team of local developers.

The local group includes Otis Warren, Willard Hackerman, head of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., who controls the Sheraton Inner Harbor and a neighboring parking lot, and Baltimore architect Peter Fillat, who designed the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel. In addition, the local group has submitted an alternative proposal that would put the convention hotel on Hackerman's parking lot.

BDC officials have told the developers to assume that the hotel would be publicly financed and city-owned, though at least one of the teams had initially proposed private financing.

The BDC also has asked that the proposals include office space and parking for Catholic Relief Services. Johnson's proposal, unveiled in November, included a new headquarters for that group, which has been seeking to move from its home on West Fayette Street.

"We've worked with Johnson and Quadrangle in terms of the proposal, and developed a very good working relationship with them," said Mark D. Palmer, chief financial officer for the international relief agency. "We feel like it's a partnership that works very well. We've had no contact or conversation with the other proposals. We are confident that our proposal is the best one for the city, and that our team is the best able to bring it to fruition."

The group started talking with city officials about the site near Camden Yards last summer, before Catholic Relief officials knew anything about a convention hotel bid for that site, Palmer said. City officials then told them of the negotiations with Johnson and suggested that the agency work with the Johnson team.

"We've been patient because that site represents our first choice," Palmer said. "We've had to rent additional space. That's not the most desirable thing to have our people scattered in multiple buildings."

Palmer said the agency would like to break ground on the project next year and complete it by 2005 or 2006.

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