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3 low-cost hotels eyed downtown

The Baltimore Sun

In Baltimore, where a downtown hotel stay easily costs $200 a night, a developer has ambitious plans that would bring three alternatives to the budget-conscious traveler.

Sanket Patel, an Annapolis-based developer, plans to build side-by-side hotels, a $35 million project, on Front Street near the base of the Jones Falls Expressway.

One would be a 63-room Sleep Inn to be built in the old Furncraft building. He would demolish the former Hillen Tire shop next door to build an 11-story Cambria Suites.

Patel also has a 42-room Red Roof Inn in the works for Saratoga Street on the city's west side.

Together, the new hotels would substantially increase Baltimore's low-cost lodging options - particularly in the Inner Harbor area.

"It offers folks who can't otherwise afford to, the ability to stay downtown," Patel said. "Just because they'll be affordable doesn't mean they aren't going to be aesthetically pleasing as well."

The Front Street plans come before the city's architecture review board this morning. On Tuesday, the zoning board is scheduled to consider giving the developer a permit that would allow him to build the hotels in an industrial area.

With the zoning board's blessing, Patel said he would like to start construction immediately. If everything goes as planned, he would open the Sleep Inn next summer and the Cambria Suites about six months later.

He anticipates the Red Roof could open in September next year.

Patel's hotels will be jostling in the Baltimore market with a number of others.

There's the city's convention center hotel, a nearly 800-room Hilton scheduled to open in August 2008 on Pratt Street.

At Harbor East there's a Four Seasons planned, as well as a Homewood Suites and a Hilton Garden Inn under construction.

A developer plans to turn Fells Point's recreation pier into a 130-room Aloft hotel, a less-expensive version of the W Hotel brand.

Two separate skyscraper projects planned along the Inner Harbor include hotel portions.

A 196-room hotel is being talked about for the corner of Charles and Redwood streets, an extended-stay hotel is planned for Charles and Fayette streets, and at the intersection of Calvert and Redwood streets, hotels are rising on two corners - another extended-stay establishment and a boutique inn called Hotel Indigo.

Even a 44-bed hostel, where a night's stay would cost much less than any of Patel's planned hotels, is slated to open as soon as next month in Mount Vernon.

Mary Jo McCulloch, president Maryland Hotel and Lodging Association, said Baltimore could handle all of the new rooms - if they don't all try to open at the same time.

"What we have always said is Baltimore could certainly use some more hotels," she said. "My concern has always been how quickly they come on board. So long as we can spread it out and give the market a chance to absorb them, we'll be OK."

A bigger problem, McCulloch said, is finding people to staff all of these places. It's been hard, she said, for existing hotels.

Patel believes price will give his hotels a niche in the crowded market. Rooms at Sleep Inn will cost about $90, while a stay at Cambria Suites will run $100 to $140.

He's also confident that the location, visible to anyone coming into Baltimore from Interstate 83, will be valuable.

Because the Front Street site is in an enterprise zone, Patel's hotels would be eligible for property and employment tax credits, said Kim Clark, a Baltimore Development Corp. economic development director.

Patel, who is planning to preserve the Italianate fa?ade of the Furncraft building, also intends to apply for historic tax credits,

The building dates to about 1910, said Charles Duff, the director of Jubilee Baltimore.

"This is actually a quite wonderful-looking building," Duff said. "It's very rare in a commercial building to see columns worked into the facade like that. Somebody cared about this building."


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