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Group's pullout won't stop hotel project, developer says


The head of the development team involved in a $200 million hotel project in downtown Baltimore said today that Catholic Relief Services' withdrawal will not keep the effort from moving forward.

"We understand their concerns, and we wish them well," said Thomas J. Baltimore Jr., president of RLJ Development LLC, the Bethesda-based company owned by Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television in Washington. "We're going to move forward with the project."

RLJ, whose development team includes Quadrangle Development Corp. in Washington, has an exclusive agreement with the city to negotiate a contract to build the proposed 750-room hotel. The project was to include a new headquarters for Catholic Relief Services.

The charity told Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley last week that it was pulling out of the proposed project, to be located just north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, because it couldn't wait for the new building. The project now is estimated to open in 2007, about 18 months behind earlier estimates.

CRS, now located at 209 W. Fayette St., is considering four downtown sites.

The Hilton hotel is to publicly owned and publicly financed. It is expected to increase the use of the flagging Baltimore Convention Center.

"We are very fond of and have a great respect for Catholic Relief Services," Baltimore said. "We understand their need to move in another direction."

Baltimore said that RLJ now can consider the entire 4.7-acre site for the project. The CRS headquarters was to span about 200,000 square feet. In preparing its initial bid for the site, the design team faced such issues and height limitations and concerns about more meeting space, he said.

RLJ also could include space for a high-speed maglev train proposed for the Baltimore-Washington corridor. The $4.98 billion magnetic levitation train would travel the 39-mile route between the cities in 18 minutes. The project still depends on authorization from Congress and approval from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Baltimore is competing with Pittsburgh for a $950 million federal grant to build the nation's first maglev line.

"We now have the whole site," Baltimore said. "We can look at the various design elements and plan for maglev."

Originally published February 19, 2004, 12:54 PM EST

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