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300-room hotel due near airport

The Baltimore Sun

Developers plan to break ground this fall on a 300-room Crowne Plaza hotel near BWI Marshall Airport, one of more than 20 hotels proposed or already under construction in Anne Arundel County.

The Crowne, which focuses on the corporate-meeting niche, will be part of a complex called the Grand Isle Resort that by itself is slated to have four hotels - plus an indoor water park, a conference center, a day spa and 10 restaurants. The complex in Linthicum, just north of the airport, is expected to break ground shortly before the Crowne and open in mid-to-late 2009.

InterContinental Hotels Group, Crowne's parent, announced Crowne's entry into the Baltimore metro area yesterday. It will be one of the largest hotels in the county, falling just short of the 310-room BWI Marriott.

Crowne said it was attracted by the concentration of office space in the area as well as the proximity to BWI.

"It's just a perfect market for us," said Kevin Kowalski, Crowne's vice president of brand management. "You can leverage the airport and have a regional, quick and efficient in-and-out meeting at our hotel."

Anne Arundel economic development officials know of 21 hotels with a total of 3,600 rooms that are proposed or under construction. All but three are near BWI.

The boom comes because Anne Arundel, which has benefited from the buildup in defense and security, has been pinched for hotel space. More business growth is expected as part of the military base restructuring in the next several years, which only adds to hoteliers' interest.

A queue of hotel development is also a nationwide trend.

"You've got huge demand and really not enough supply by normal standards," said Jack Corgel, a real estate professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. "The prevailing paradigm is everything on the coast is doing well."

But Mary Jo McCulloch, president of the Maryland Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group, said hotel operators are nervous about all the newcomers in the pipeline. The market will be overwhelmed if too many rooms open at once, she said - and she's not referring only to competition for customers. The region has too few hospitality workers as it is, she said.

"You need to spread it out and make sure you can absorb the numbers without putting any hotel in jeopardy," McCulloch said.

Crowne isn't worried about the customer end of the equation. Kowalski believes the Grand Isle Resort will be a destination, "essentially creating a lot of its own demand."

Clarksville-based Asha Cos., which will develop the resort and also own the Crowne, plans to attach the hotel to a 82,000-square-foot conference center - almost the size of a Wal-Mart store - and a 130,000-square-foot indoor aquatic center with water slides and other attractions.

Local companies will appreciate the conference center, said Linda Greene, executive director of the BWI Business Partnership, a business and economic development group. "We lack that kind of space to really have large gatherings in this area," she said.

The resort also fits into County Executive John R. Leopold's vision of an "aerotropolis" - a concentration of mixed-use, transit-oriented development around the airport, said a spokeswoman.


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