Saying he was disappointed that the Belvedere Hotel could not bring a better price, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge James F. Schneider has approved a deal to sell the historic hotel to a Florida corporation for $5.5 million.
"I do think that it is a sad day for Baltimore in that the sale didn't bring anything near what the building is worth," Schneider said yesterday. Appraisers had set the hotel's value at $6.7 million.
When completed next month, the sale of the 87-year-old Belvedere will end the 15-year reign of owner Victor Frenkil, the once politically influential builder who tried to revive the hotel with the help of more than $7 million in city loans and loan guarantees.
In approving the sale, Schneider also commended Frenkil for his efforts to restore the once-grand Belvedere.
Schneider said he had visited the hotel twice before Frenkil bought it in 1975. The first visit came when Schneider was a member of the University of Baltimore student government. He said he left appalled at the poor condition of the building, which the school wanted to use for dormitory rooms.
Schneider's second visit came as a young city prosecutor, when he spent a fruitless day on a murder investigation. During that visit, Schneider recalled, the hotel was vacant, extremely cold and tended by a watchman who warmed himself with a bonfire he started in one of the hotel's marble-floored cloakrooms.
The improvement Frenkil helped bring to the hotel "really was a miracle," Schneider said. "Without [Frenkil] the city wouldn't have had this asset."
In a brief statement, Frenkil, who spent much of his time personally overseeing the management of the Belvedere, told the court that he had invested $12.5 million in the hotel and had hoped to see it remain in the control of local interests.
"I think it means a lot to Baltimore to have local, Baltimore interests to do a job," Frenkil said of the hotel, which is at Charles and Chase streets.
A deal that would have allowed the Baltimore International Culinary College to operate the hotel under a long-term lease from Frenkil was withdrawn after it failed to receive backing from the city last week.
The corporation buying the Belvedere is led by Miami-based developer Judah Hertz, who plans to make improvements to the building and convert it into condominiums selling at prices ranging from $59,000 to $110,000.
Of the $5.5 million Hertz is paying for the hotel, $4.5 million is to go to first mortgage holder Meritor Savings Bank. And the remaining $1 million is to go to the city, which holds a second mortgage on the property. The city also is to receive the hotel's bars, ballrooms and restaurants, with the exception of the 13th Floor bar, which is to be converted into a penthouse. Numerous unsecured creditors would not be paid under the agreement.
"The city is delighted with the deal," said city real estate officer John J. Hentschel Jr.
Hentschel explained that, while the city is receiving only $1 million in cash -- as much as $124,000 of which may go to the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to settle back bills at the hotel -- the food and beverage facilities are worth as much as $4 million, which could be gained if the city sells the facilities.
Hentschel said the city's estimate of the value of the hotel's food and beverage operations is based on projections done by consultants and caterers who have expressed an interest in operating the facilities.
For now, he said, the city is only talking about leasing the facilities so it can establish how much business the bars, ballrooms and restaurants can generate before selling them. Hentschel said negotiations should begin next week on a lease and that several caterers are interested.
When William Donald Schaefer was mayor, the city pumped $4.6 million into the Belvedere. It also guaranteed $2.7 million in loans for Frenkil.
One East Chase Street Limited Partnership, the Frenkil-led group that owns the Belvedere, filed for bankruptcy in May 1989 after BTC Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke refused to authorize additional city financing for the hotel.
But, even as the court was pulling the plug on his ownership of the Belvedere yesterday, Frenkil insisted that he could have made the building a financial success with just a little more city help.
"If the city had ridden with me on this I'd be all right," said Frenkil, who was somewhat chipper in court, where he was accompanied by a tearful daughter. "But [Meritor Savings Bank] wanted its dough and the city wanted their dough and they wouldn't ride with me."