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A TASTE OF LUXURY

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Mediterranean Suites have soaking tubs for two, 37-inch flat-screen TVs, 500-thread-count Italian linens and a complimentary goldfish upon request.

There are "Tall Rooms" with extra-long mattresses and giraffe print robes for "vertically gifted" guests, "Pet Parlor Rooms" for travelers with four-legged companions, and a living room where guests can gather for a daily wine hour.

These are a few of the features at the Hotel Monaco Baltimore, a $65 million, 202-room "luxury boutique" hotel that opens today inside the former Baltimore & Ohio Railroad headquarters at 2 N. Charles St.

This is the first property in Baltimore managed by San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, a company with a devoted following of business and leisure travelers. Kimpton established its Monaco brand for upscale hotels created inside historic structures such as the B&O; Building, which dates to 1906.

"This building wants to be a hotel," said Monaco general manager Michael Damion. "Sometimes you run into a lot of roadblocks and an old building starts to fight you. But this building opened up its arms to us."

Baltimore's newest hotel is opening at a time when occupancy rates are down citywide, due in part to the nationwide recession and the completion of several new hotels here.

The Monaco is competing with an aggressive marketing campaign. It has been holding preview dinners this week in its first-level restaurant, the B&O; American Brasserie. It's giving a free night's stay to meeting planners who take a tour. It's offering a rate of $129 per night for rooms that will cost $329 or more after October. The first guest today will be upgraded to the Majestic Suite and treated to champagne, strawberries and an in-room massage.

For hotels throughout the city, the occupancy rate during the first six months of 2009 was 58.2 percent, down from 62.3 percent for the first half of 2008, according to Smith Travel Research of Hendersonville, Tenn., and the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

The number of rooms booked citywide actually rose 2.9 percent during the first half of 2009 compared with the first half of 2008, because more rooms were available this year. Including the Monaco, the city has 7,985 hotel rooms within a one-mile radius of Pratt and Light streets, according to the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. A year ago, Baltimore had 6,782 rooms in that area.

Industry observers say the Monaco is well positioned to land a share of the local hospitality business because it is a "lifestyle hotel" designed to appeal to social and business travelers alike.

"I think the Monaco is going to do very, very well," said Tom Noonan, BACVA's president and chief executive. "It's the hot new brand in town. It has beautiful rooms, with an Old World ambience. They're savvy marketers."

Noonan said he believes the Monaco will help Baltimore attract conventioneers, particularly upscale groups.

"It's nice to have that high-end boutique product," he said.

Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, predicts the Monaco will help bring life back to Charles and Baltimore streets and said he's especially looking forward to the restaurant.

"We haven't had an upscale restaurant open in this part of downtown for quite some time," Fowler said.

Kimpton is managing the hotel for ARC Wheeler, the building's Philadelphia-based owner. The hotel occupies floors two, three and seven through 13 (now numbered 14.) Regular rates run from $329 to $1,200. Levels 4, 5 and 6 are offices. The hotel and restaurant brought 135 to 140 jobs.

According to Damion and Todd Unger, director of sales and marketing, Monaco hotels have a loyal following because they offer a high level of service and amenities. Known for their decor and eco-friendly practices, they attract repeat customers by keeping track of guests' likes and dislikes.

"We know if our guests want a Snickers or a Milky Way," Damion said.

Collins & Kronstadt - Leahy, Hogan, Collins, Draper LLP of Silver Spring was the architect. James M. Jost & Co. of Columbia was the general contractor.

Based on bookings so far, the Monaco will be full Friday and Saturday, when the Red Sox play the Orioles at Camden Yards.

Damion said he's eager for people to see how well the one-time corporate headquarters works as a hotel.

"She really wants to welcome Baltimore," he said.

Hotel boom

In addition to the Hotel Monaco Baltimore, seven hotels have opened recently or are scheduled to open in the near future in downtown Baltimore. Others are in the planning stages for 2010 or later. The projects include:

Opened this year

* Quality Inn, 110 St. Paul Place, $11 million. 96 rooms. Opened in April.

* Fairfield Inn and Suites, 101 President St. 144 rooms. Opened in June.

Opening this year

* Holiday Inn Express, 221-233 N. Gay St, $10.5 million, 70 rooms. Late summer.

* Hotel Indigo, 207 E. Redwood St. $24 million. 130 rooms. Early fall.

* Sleep Inn and Suites, 300 N. Front St. $5 million. 63 rooms. Projected opening for fall.

* Staybridge Suites, 2 E. Fayette St. $22 million. 100 rooms. End of year.

* Inn at the Black Olive, 801 Caroline St. 12 rooms. $7.3 million. End of year.

For 2010 and beyond

* Carrollton Inn expansion, 50 Albemarle St. $2 million. 11 rooms. 2010.

* Inn at Penn Station, 70 rooms. $9 million. Projected late 2010.

* Four Seasons Harbor East, 200 International Drive, 256 rooms. 2010 or 2011.

* 301 N. Charles Street, 97 rooms, projected 2011 opening.

* Four Points Sheraton, 25 S. Calvert St., $25 million. 153 rooms. Projected 2011.

* Former Drover's Bank site, 100 N. Eutaw St. 130 rooms. Projected late 2011.

* 310 N. Front St. extended-stay hotel (Mainstay or Cambria Suites). $14 million. 120 rooms. Projected late 2011.

* Hyatt Place and Summerfield Suites at City Center, Calvert and Lombard streets, $85 million. 486 rooms. Projected 2012.

* Westin Hotel at Wills Pier, Harbor Point, 270 rooms. Projected 2012.

* Mechanic Center, 1 W. Baltimore St.. 164 rooms. In the planning stages.

* Lexington Square, Lexington Street and Park Avenue. In the planning stages.

* 300 E. Pratt St. 335 rooms, Projected opening 2012.

* 10 Inner Harbor. 250 rooms. Projected opening 2013.

- Edward Gunts

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