City hotel hearing is a dud


A bill that would form an advisory committee to oversee the creation of a publicly financed convention center hotel was stymied yesterday when too few City Council members attended a public hearing to vote on the matter.

Though the whole 15-member council was to consider Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr.'s bill, only a handful of members showed up for the 5 p.m. hearing. A few of those who attended dropped in for only part of the two hours of testimony.

The Baltimore Development Corp. and the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association oppose the bill, saying an advisory committee is not only unnecessary but could cause an expensive delay for the hotel project.

The BDC and city tourism officials are pushing for a $305 million, 752-room hotel to be built connected to the downtown convention center. Without one, they say, the city will not be able competitively lure conferences.

The hotel would be developed and owned by the city but operated by Hilton Hotels Corp.

Next week, the City Council will hold a public hearing on a series of bills that would create a property tax district for the hotel, authorize the sale of revenue bonds to pay for it and close streets for its construction.

Mitchell said he agrees that the city needs the hotel but believes taxpayers and the City Council need more opportunity to weigh in on the decision to build it. He envisions the advisory committee including representatives from the mayor's office, the council, area hotels, BACVA and Inner Harbor tourist attractions and businesses.

"We're being asked to vote on the largest project in the city's history," he said. "The concern I have is the process, this fast track."

BDC President M.J. "Jay" Brodie testified that there is no need for the committee and that taking time to form one could set back the process and possibly force the city to miss prime interest rates.

There are "potentially disastrous consequences for the hotel," he said.

Despite the lack of a quorum last night, Mitchell said he will try to get the council to vote on the bill at its July 11 meeting.

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